The Routledge History of Human Rights 1138784338, 9781138784338

The Routledge History of Human Rights is an interdisciplinary collection that provides historical and global perspective

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The Routledge History of Human Rights
 1138784338, 9781138784338

Table of contents :
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
List of contributors
1. Introduction: an open-ended and contingent history of human rights
A big picture
E-version flexibility: alternative themes and perspectives
PART I: The new internationalism
2. John Anderson – slave, refugee, and freedom fighter: a human rights campaign in the age of empire
The language of activism: key concepts at acritical crossroads
Anderson’s story: melodrama, empathy, and universal rights
Personal sovereignty, national sovereignty, and intra-imperial politics
Conclusion: making universal rights stick
3. Investigating and ameliorating atrocities in the nineteenth century: international commissions of inquiry in the Balkans (1876–80)
Proposed international commissions in the early stages of the“Great Eastern Crisis” (1876)
AEuropean commission in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War: the Commission for Mt. Rhodope (1878)
Atrocities in the new state of Eastern Roumelia: the Aidos and Kirdjali commissions of inquiry (1880)
Concluding thoughts
4. Reclaiming Congo reform for the history of human rights
“Their lives were useless to them”: Roger Casement prepares the evidence
“Measures…€to abate the evils prevalent in that state”: framing the law
Confronting the evidence: Leopold’s international inquiry
Conclusions: human rights advocacy as apractice of persuasion
5. The Red Cross and the laws of war, 1863–1949: international rights activism before human rights
Absolute obedience to the state, 1863–1914
Violence against wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians, 1914–21
The superior laws of humanity, 1921
The absence of sacred respect, 1922–39
International legal revisions, 1945–9
PART II: The interwar era: the League of Nations
6. United in their quest for peace? Transnational women activists between the World Wars
The wartime gathering of women at The Hague and the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Peace as aunifying goal in the 1920s
Disagreements over methods of peace activism
Cooperation for peace and disarmament: toward anew vision of humanism
Broadening agendas and working for “human rights”
Strengthening equal rights through peace
Challenges to internationalisms
7. The “rights of man” and sex equality: international human rights discourses in the 1930s
The international declaration of the rights of man: aconversation among experts
Acry of desperation: human rights entering the international arena
Whose rights are the rights of man? Sex equality and expanding the definition of nondiscrimination
PART III: The formative UN era A. UN treaty-making
8. Social and economic rights: the struggle for equivalent protection
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Objections to justiciability
Moving towards justiciability
9. Islam and UN human rights treaty ratification in the Middle East: the impact of international law on diplomacy
Theoretical puzzles
Islam and human rights in MENA
Islam and MENA RUDs to human rights treaties
MENA diplomatic dialogues with UN human rights treaty committees
Conclusions: Islam and UN human rights treaty ratification in MENA– progress and limitations
10. When the war came: the child rights convention and the conflation of human rights and the laws of war
The long road to aweak article
Correcting the drafting mistake
Conclusions and suggestions for further research
B. Decolonization
11. “Why then call it the declaration of human rights?” The failures of universal human rights in colonial Africa’s internationally supervised territories
Legalism in Africa’s internationally mandated territories
Universal human rights claims from Africa’s UN trust territories
12. Decolonization, development, and identity: the evolution of the anticolonial human rights critique, 1948–78
Sincere aspiration or the armament of expediency? Human rights against and after empire
“Somebody else’s book of rules”: the rise of development as ahuman rights exception, 1953–61
Anticolonial human rights renovation in the 1960s: amore perfect universalism?
Bad advice? Postcolonial critique of human rights arrives at the UN
Towards a universal particularism: identity,
community, and tradition
Breakthrough and breakup? The proliferation of “human
rights” language
13. “When you are weak, you have to stick to principles”: Botswana and anticolonialism in human rights history
The case of Botswana
Race and human rights in Bechuanaland
Human rights idealism and the quest for foreign assistance
Botswana’s movement for individual and national self-determination
C. Socialist and capitalist versions of human rights
14. The International Labour Organization and the gender of economic rights
Gendered labor in human rights historiography
The hidden gender paradigm
The equal treatment paradigm
The special treatment paradigm
Women’s rights as human rights
15. Human rights movements and the fall of the Berlin wall: explaining the peaceful revolution of 1989
Human rights and 1989 historiography
From the international year for human rights to a
human rights movement
Human rights for peace, the environment, and reform
1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall
16. Human rights in China: resisting orthodoxy
Orthodoxy and resistance in modern China’s political tradition
Human rights standards in China today
Forms of resistance in contemporary China
Conclusion: resistance to orthodoxy and implications for the party-state
17. Continuity and change in US human rights policy
The primacy of the Cold War
Anew approach to human rights
Democratization of US policymaking
The beginning of a human rights movement
Human rights after the Cold War
Human rights and the War on Terror
PART IV: After formal empire and the Cold War: how human rights are practiced around the globe (1980s–2001)
18. The universality of human rights: early NGO practices in the Arab world
Activism under occupation
The struggle for non-partisanship in Morocco
The Kuwait Society for Human Rights
19. How women become human: Chilean contributions to women’s human rights from dictatorship to the twenty-first century
International human rights initiatives and their discontents
Women’s rights as human rights under Chilean dictatorship: confronting an authoritarian-patriarchal regime
Self-help initiatives, solidarity art, and challenges to the master narrative
Solidarity and the internationalization of women’s rights
Feminist awareness raising: knowledge production and actions
Words, language, and knowledge production
Las Protestas, the return to democracy, and the
institutionalization of a women’s rights agenda
Conclusion: assessing the state of women’s human rights
20. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: from dictatorship to democracy
In the crucible of state terror
An incomplete transition
The politics of memory in aneoliberal age
La década ganada: an ambivalent triumph?
21. Asma Jahangir: personifying the human rights debate in Pakistan
Islamization of the 1980s: challenges to human rights
Women’s struggles against a theocratic state
Global and local debates over human rights/Muslim
rights for women
Women’s autonomy as the key to human rights
A“liberal” dictatorship and contradictions of rights
Asma: the messiah for minorities
Human rights as the betrayal of Muslimness
New proposals for human rights in Muslim contexts
The task of Asma’s legacy
PART V: The universal human rights pantheon in national contexts
22. Freedom of religion and the new diversity: case studies from Canada
Before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
After the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
From religion to culture
Reasonable accommodation
The Ktunaxa case (2017)
23. Indigenous activism for human rights: a case study from Australia
Distinctive cultures, distinctive histories
Gathering together: survival and land
William Cooper: shared struggles, difference, and Indigenous rights in the twentieth century
Historical lineages, contemporary struggles
24. The international LGBT rights movement: an introductory history
25. Rights in isolation: lessons on public health and human rights from leprosy and HIV in the Pacific Islands
An isolated incident? An old approach to anew disease
The impact of isolation on public health and human rights
Imported diseases and imported responses
Leprosy: the classic disease of isolation
HIV: the first disease of the human rights era
Different lessons from another island: HIV and isolation in Cuba
Anew disease and an old approach in the Pacific
PART VI: New forms of accountability in a national security world (2001 to the present)
26. Decentralization and public–private diplomacy in the business and human rights field
Early corporate accountability at Nuremberg
The downfall of US alien tort statute litigation
Settling Nazi-era wartime forced labor: inclusive public–private diplomacy as an alternative to the courts
Proliferation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights
Joint development and implementation of the accountability and remedy project
27. The selectivity of universal jurisdiction: the history of transnational human rights prosecutions in Latin America and Spain
Universal jurisdiction: definition, scope, and limits
Evolution of international accountability: universal jurisdiction as atransitional justice mechanism
The history of universal jurisdiction in Latin America and Spain: complaints before the Spanish national court
Victims of the Franco dictatorship seeking justice in Argentina
Conclusions: the selective application of acontested global norm
28. Militarized sexual violence and campaigns for redress
The early twentieth century
The military management of sexuality in the Asia-Pacific War (1937–45)
Post-World War II military tribunals
The Korean War and its aftermath
Feminist campaigns
Litigation and international political pressure
Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery
The Wednesday demonstration
Japan–South Korea joint communiqué
Sexual violence and international law
29. Solidarity rights and the common heritage of humanity
Solidarity rights
The common heritage of humanity in international law
The common heritage of humanity: the World Heritage Convention and practical implications
Solidarity, rights, and heritage: final reflections
30. Intellectual property law and human rights
A story of two legal regimes divided by a common rights
The age of ateliers: from monarchical privilege to the uncertain beginnings of creator rights
Age of international dreamers: from reciprocal rights to universal rights
The age of global governance: collective and personal rights
The second wave of intellectual property protests and human
rights: digital citizen movements
The struggle over rights versus intellectual property in atime of crisis
31. Caged at the border: immigration detention and the denial of human rights to asylum seekers and other migrants
Introduction: if you come, we will take your children
On behalf of an imagined community: the roots of the idea of detaining migrants and asylum seekers
An unbalanced international system
A brief history of immigration detention
Wartime internment
Legislative foundations, 1950s–70s
Current conditions
Detention as deterrence: ahuman rights violation
Conclusion: the persistent violence of immigration detention
PART VII: The transformative impact of human rights on knowledge
32. Archiving human rights in Latin America: transitional justice and shifting visions of political change
Human rights activism, information politics, and the precursors to transitional justice
Paraguay: the judicialization of transitional justice
Institutionalization and its discontents
Memory, democratization, and the voice of the victim
Transitional justice in the twenty-first century: beyond law as justice
Conclusion: memory and the instrumentalization of information about human rights violations
33. Emotion in the history of human rights: a case study of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Designing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights: debates and context
Inside the museum
34. From the classroom to the public: engaging students in human rights history
Selected bibliography

Citation preview


The Routledge History of Human Rights is an interdisciplinary collection that provides historical and global perspectives on a range of human rights themes of the past 150 years. The volume is made up of 34 original contributions. It opens with the emergence of a “new internationalism” in the mid-nineteenth century, examines the interwar, League of Nations, and the United Nations eras of human rights and decolonization, and ends with the serious challenges for rights norms, laws, institutions, and multilateral cooperation in the national security world after 9/11. These essays provide a big picture of the strategic, political, and changing nature of human rights work in the past and into the present day, and reveal the contingent nature of historical developments. Highlighting local, national, and non-Western voices and struggles, the volume contributes to overcoming Eurocentric biases that burden human rights histories and studies of international law. It analyzes regions and organizations that are often overlooked. The volume thus offers readers a new and broader perspective on the subject. International in coverage and containing cutting-edge interpretations, the volume provides an overview of major themes and suggestions for future research. This is the perfect book for those interested in social justice, grass roots activism, and international politics and society. Jean H. Quataert is SUNY Distinguished Professor of History Emerita at Binghamton University, USA and co-editor of the Journal of Women’s History (2010–20). She has published many books and articles, including Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics (2009) and “A New Look at International Law: Gendering the Practices of Humanitarian Medicine in Europe’s ‘Small Wars,’ 1879–1907,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2018, vol. 40, no. 3, 547–69. Lora Wildenthal is John Antony Weir Professor of History and Associate Dean of Humanities at Rice University in Houston, Texas, USA. She is the author of German Women for Empire, 1884–1945 (2001) and The Language of Human Rights in West Germany (2013).

THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORIES The Routledge Histories is a series of landmark books surveying some of the most important topics and themes in history today. Edited and written by an international team of world-renowned experts, they are the works against which all future books on their subjects will be judged. THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE Edited by William Caferro THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF MADNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH Edited by Greg Eghigian THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF DISABILITY Edited by Roy Hanes, Ivan Brown, and Nancy E. Hansen THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA Edited by Jonathan Daniel Wells THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF GENDER, WAR, AND THE U.S. MILITARY Edited by Kara Dixon Vuic THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SOUTH Edited by Maggi M. Morehouse THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF ITALIAN AMERICANS Edited by William J. Connell and Stanislao Pugliese THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF LATIN AMERICAN CULTURE Edited by Carlos Manuel Salomon THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF GLOBAL WAR AND SOCIETY Edited by Matthew S. Muehlbauer and David J. Ulbrich THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY UNITED STATES Edited by Jerald R. Podair and Darren Dochuk THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF WORLD PEACE SINCE 1750 Edited by Christian Philip Peterson, William M. Knoblauch, and Michael Loadenthal THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL MAGIC Edited by Sophie Page and Catherine Rider THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF MONARCHY Edited by Elena Woodacre, Lucinda H.S. Dean, Chris Jones, Russell E. Martin, and Zita Eva Rohr THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF EMOTIONS IN EUROPE, 1100–1700 Edited by Andrew Lynch and Susan Broomhall THE ROUTLEDGE HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS Edited by Jean H. Quataert and Lora Wildenthal For more information about this series, please visit:


Edited by Jean H. Quataert and Lora Wildenthal

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 selection and editorial matter, Jean H. Quataert and Lora Wildenthal; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Jean H. Quataert and Lora Wildenthal to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-1-138-78433-8 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-32437-6 (ebk) Typeset in Baskerville by Swales & Willis, Exeter, Devon, UK


List of illustrations List of contributors Acknowledgments 1

x xi xviii

Introduction: an open-ended and contingent history of human rights




The new internationalism 2


John Anderson – slave, refugee, and freedom fighter: a human rights campaign in the age of empire




Investigating and ameliorating atrocities in the nineteenth century: international commissions of inquiry in the Balkans (1876–80)


B E N J A M I N E . B R O CK M A N - H AW E


Reclaiming Congo reform for the history of human rights




The Red Cross and the laws of war, 1863–1949: international rights activism before human rights




The interwar era: the League of Nations 6

United in their quest for peace? Transnational women activists between the World Wars MA RIE SAN DELL






The “rights of man” and sex equality: international human rights discourses in the 1930s




The formative UN era A. UN treaty-making 8


Social and economic rights: the struggle for equivalent protection




Islam and UN human rights treaty ratification in the Middle East: the impact of international law on diplomacy




When the war came: the child rights convention and the conflation of human rights and the laws of war



B. Decolonization 11


“Why then call it the declaration of human rights?” The failures of universal human rights in colonial Africa’s internationally supervised territories




Decolonization, development, and identity: the evolution of the anticolonial human rights critique, 1948–78




“When you are weak, you have to stick to principles”: Botswana and anticolonialism in human rights history



C. Socialist and capitalist versions of human rights 14

The International Labour Organization and the gender of economic rights EILEEN BORIS A ND JILL J EN SEN






Human rights movements and the fall of the Berlin wall: explaining the peaceful revolution of 1989




Human rights in China: resisting orthodoxy




Continuity and change in US human rights policy




After formal empire and the Cold War: how human rights are practiced around the globe (1980s–2001) 18

The universality of human rights: early NGO practices in the Arab world





How women become human: Chilean contributions to women’s human rights from dictatorship to the twenty-first century




The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: from dictatorship to democracy




Asma Jahangir: personifying the human rights debate in Pakistan




The universal human rights pantheon in national contexts 22

Freedom of religion and the new diversity: case studies from Canada





Indigenous activism for human rights: a case study from Australia RACHEL STANDFIELD AND LYNE TTE RUSSELL





The international LGBT rights movement: an introductory history




Rights in isolation: lessons on public health and human rights from leprosy and HIV in the Pacific Islands




New forms of accountability in a national security world (2001 to the present) 26

Decentralization and public–private diplomacy in the business and human rights field





The selectivity of universal jurisdiction: the history of transnational human rights prosecutions in Latin America and Spain




Militarized sexual violence and campaigns for redress




Solidarity rights and the common heritage of humanity




Intellectual property law and human rights




Caged at the border: immigration detention and the denial of human rights to asylum seekers and other migrants




The transformative impact of human rights on knowledge 32

Archiving human rights in Latin America: transitional justice and shifting visions of political change M IC H E L L E C AR M O D Y






Emotion in the history of human rights: a case study of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights




From the classroom to the public: engaging students in human rights history



Selected bibliography Index

650 661



Figures From The Graphic, 7 September 1878. The Commission is “busy at work at Gabrova, examining the victims of Russian brutality at Kushalar. Consul Fawcett is interrogating the unfortunates; and the remaining Europeans are the other members of the Commission” 3.2 Map of a portion of the Rhodope Mountains based on a sketch by Commissioner Fawcett, showing the locations of burned villages, abandoned villages, and repopulated villages 4.1 King Leopold II’s Independent Congo State 9.1 Map of the MENA region, including the countries discussed in this essay 13.1 Southern Africa, ca. 1977 25.1 The Pacific Islands 3.1


43 59 164 242 468

Tables 9.1 9.2 9.3


169 169 171



Jennifer Adair is Assistant Professor of History at Fairfield University. Her current research examines the restoration of democracy in Latin America following decades of military dictatorship and fiscal crisis. She is the author of In Search of the Lost Decade: Everyday Rights in Post-Dictatorship Argentina, forthcoming in 2019. Lori G. Beaman, PhD, FRSC, is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change and Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. She was Principal Investigator of the Religion and Diversity Project, a 37-member international research team whose focus was religion and diversity ( Recent books include Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (2017), and Rethinking Reasonable Accommodation: Muslims and the Navigation and Negotiation of the Everyday (2018), co-authored with Jennifer Selby and Amélie Barras. She has published numerous articles, including “Living Together v. Living Well Together: A Normative Examination of the SAS Case,” Social Inclusion, 2017, vol. 4, no. 2, 3–13; “Recognize the New Religious Diversity,” Canadian Diversity, 2017, vol. 14, no. 4, 17–19; and “Transcendence/Religion to Immanence/Nonreligion in Assisted Dying,” International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, 2018, vol. 11, no. 2, 129–43, co-authored with Cory Steele. She is the 2017 recipient of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Impact Award in the Insight Category. Beaman also holds an Honorary Doctorate from Uppsala University. Laura A. Belmonte is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. A specialist in the history of US foreign relations, she is author of Selling the American Way: US Propaganda and the Cold War (2010) and co-author of Global Americans: A History of the United States (2017). Her new book, The International LGBT Rights Movement: A History, is forthcoming in 2020. Eileen Boris is the Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies, History, Black Studies, and Global Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She writes on the home as a workplace and on racialized gender and the state. Her books include the prizewinning monographs Home to Work: Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States (1994) and Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, co-authored with Jennifer Klein (2012, rpt. 2015). She is coeditor with Rhacel Parreñas of Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care xi


(2010) and co-editor with Dorothea Hoehtker and Susan Zimmermann of Women’s ILO: Transnational Networks, Global Labour Standards, and Gender Equity, 1919 to Present (2018). Her latest book is Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919–2019 (2019). She is the President of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, 2015–20, and has served most recently on the advisory boards of the Global Labor Migration Network, Center for Global Migration Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, and on DomEQUAL: A Global Approach to Paid Domestic Work and Social Inequalities, Ca’Foscari, University of Venice. Benjamin E. Brockman-Hawe received his JD from Boston University, where he graduated with honors in the concentration of International Law in 2008, and received his LLM from Columbia University in 2016. Roland Burke is author of Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights (2010) and Senior Lecturer in History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. His research is focused on international idealism, principally postwar human rights. His recent work has charted the changing meaning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Journal of Global History, International History Review, History & Memory), economic and social rights (Humanity), and the recession of sentiment and emotion in human rights diplomacy and activism (Human Rights Quarterly and the Journal of Human Rights). He is currently revising a manuscript on challenges to the ideas set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration, Human Rights in Eclipse. Ulrike Capdepón is currently Research Fellow with the “Reconstructing Memory in the City – Transnational and Local (European) Sites of Memory” Balzan Prize project with Professors Aleida Assmann and Jan Assmann at the University of Konstanz, Germany. She is also Lecturer in the Program in Latin American Studies (PLAS) at Princeton University. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hamburg, Germany (2011) and is Associate Researcher at the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA). She has been a Marie Curie Fellow at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Madrid and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the European Research Council project “Narratives of Terror and Disappearance in Argentina” at the University of Konstanz. From 2014 to 2016, she was a Postdoctoral Research Scholar affiliated with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) at Columbia University in New York City. Her research interests include human rights, memory studies, and transitional justice processes in Latin America and Spain, as well as national and international prosecutions of human rights crimes and enforced disappearance. Michelle Carmody is Lecturer in Latin American Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her book Human Rights, Transitional Justice, and the Reconstruction of Political Order in Latin America (2018) examines state-sponsored human rights policies in the period following the Cold War, while her research agenda more broadly considers how Latin Americans use the opportunities provided by human rights politics to transform their societies. Catherine Baylin Duryea is Assistant Professor at St. Johns School of Law and a PhD Candidate in History at Stanford University. Her dissertation is titled Practicing xii


Human Rights in the Arab World: International Law in 20th-Century Advocacy. She earned a BA and JD from Stanford, and an MA from the American University in Cairo. Jessica M. Frazier, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Gender and Women’s Studies Program, and the Department of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island. She is the author of Women’s Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era (2017). Rachel A. George is Senior Researcher in the Overseas Development Institute in London, where her research focuses on law, international relations, and the Middle East. Her research has been featured in blogs, books, and journals, including the International Journal on Law and Interdisciplinary Legal Studies and the volume The Arab Gulf and the West: Perception and Realities – Opportunities and Perils (2018). She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton University, an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Adam R Houston holds a JD, an MA in Global Development, and an LLM in Health Law. His research is on the intersection of health, human rights, and globalization. He has worked with organizations such as Avocats Sans Frontières Canada, the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation, and the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. He has published in journals such as Health & Human Rights Journal and Foreign Affairs. He is currently a PhD candidate in Law at the University of Ottawa. Jill Jensen is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Business Administration and Management, University of Redlands, in Redlands, California, where she teaches courses on the history of capitalism, workers in the global economy, and the history of work. Her research focuses on US policies regarding international labor standards, human rights, and the basic needs approach of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and wider UN. She is co-editor with Nelson Lichtenstein of The ILO from Geneva to the Pacific Rim: West Meets East (2016), and editor of a section on women and development that will be included in the Women and Social Movements Library (2020). James Christian Kirby is a COFUND Junior Research Fellow in History at Durham University, Durham, UK. He completed his PhD at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, under the supervision of Dr. Roland Burke, with a doctoral dissertation on the history of human rights and decolonization in Botswana. He has published articles in several peer-reviewed journals, including International History Review, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, and law&history. Christine Lavrence, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at King’s University College at Western University, in London, Ontario. Her research interests include memory and memorialization, culture, gender, and identity. Her work has been published in the Canadian Review of Sociology, Oral History Review, and Space and Culture, among other journals. Linde Lindkvist is Senior Lecturer in Human Rights Studies at the School of Human Rights, Stockholm University College, Stockholm, Sweden. He specializes in questions of



human rights history, the right to religious freedom, and children’s rights. He is the author of Religious Freedom and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2017), which evolved out of his 2014 PhD thesis completed at Lund University. His ongoing postdoctoral project concerns the origins of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Kimberly A. Lowe is Assistant Professor of History at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She received her PhD from Yale University and has held doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships at Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts), the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva, Switzerland), and the AlbertLudwigs-Universität (Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany). Her research interests include the history of humanitarianism, international humanitarian law, transnational social movements, and intergovernmental organizations. Recent publications include “The League of Red Cross Societies and International Committee of the Red Cross: A Re-Evaluation of American Influence in Interwar Internationalism,” Moving the Social. Journal of Social History and the History of Social Movements, 2017, vol. 57, 37–56 and “Humanitarianism and National Sovereignty: Red Cross Intervention on Behalf of Political Prisoners in Soviet Russia, 1921–3,” Journal of Contemporary History, 2014, vol. 49, no. 4, 652–71. Regula Ludi is Professor of Modern History at the University of Zurich and Research Director at the Interdisciplinary Center for Ethics and Human Rights of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Recent publications include Reparations for Nazi Victims in Postwar Europe (2012), Zwang zur Freiheit. Krise und Neoliberalismus in der Schweiz, co-edited with Matthias Ruoss and Leena Schmitter (2018), and articles in the Journal of Women’s History, Journal of Contemporary History, and Jewish Social Studies. Mairi S. MacDonald is an independent scholar and regulatory lawyer based in Toronto, Canada. In addition to her law degree, she holds a BA from Queen’s University and PhD from the University of Toronto, both in history. Her writing and teaching interests include colonization, decolonization, and humanitarian intervention in Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the importance of imperialism to the development of the normative and legal framework of international relations and human rights. Vera Mackie is Senior Professor of Asian and International Studies and Director of the Centre for Critical Human Rights Research at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. Publications include Remembering Women’s Activism, co-authored with Sharon Crozier-De Rosa (2019) Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia, co-edited with Mark McLelland (2015), and Ways of Knowing about Human Rights in Asia (2014). Petra Molnar is a refugee and human rights lawyer in Toronto, Canada and a researcher at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She focuses on immigration detention, health and human rights, new technologies in immigration, and the politics of refugee, immigration, and international law. She is co-author with Lex Gill, of Bots at the Gate: A Human Rights Analysis of Automated DecisionMaking in Canada’s Refugee and Immigration System (2018). Steven S. Nam is Managing Editor of the Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law & Policy, a member of the Stanford CodeX Blockchain Group, and Law Steward (Advisor) for the



MIT Digital Currency Initiative. He earned a BA at Yale and an MA in Political Science and a JD at Columbia University, New York City. Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Arizona, USA. She is the author of The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women’s Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile (2009), co-editor with Fabio Lanza of Decentering Cold War History: Local and Global Change (2013), and co-editor with Tamara Chaplin of The Global Sixties: Convention, Contest and Counterculture (2017). She has written on forced sterilization campaigns and human rights violations in Peru and North Carolina, the experience of exile in the Cold War, reproductive rights, and transnational women’s activism. Her research interests focus on Latin America and explore subjects of gender, human rights, feminisms, and the global politics of health and rights. Pitman B. Potter is Professor of Law at Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He has authored many books about law in China, including most recently Assessing Treaty Performance in China: Trade and Human Rights (2014) and The Legal System of the People’s Republic of China (2013). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Anca Claudia Prodan, PhD, is Scientific Associate and Lecturer at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg, Cottbus, Germany. She teaches, researches, and publishes on various subjects in the field of Heritage Studies. She is a corresponding member of the Sub-Committee for Education and Research of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Heritage Studies Series published by Springer International Publishing, and a member of the International Association of World Heritage Professionals (IAWHP e.V.). Jean H. Quataert is SUNY Distinguished Professor of History Emerita at Binghamton University and co-editor of the Journal of Women’s History (2010–20). A pioneer in German women’s history, over the last decade she has turned to transnational history, human rights, and international law. She has published many books and articles, including Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics (2009) and “A New Look at International Law: Gendering the Practices of Humanitarian Medicine in Europe’s ‘Small Wars,’ 1879–1907,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2018, vol. 40, no. 3, 547–69. Ned Richardson-Little is Principal Investigator of the “Transnational Crime and Deviant Globalization in 20th-Century Germany” research group at the University of Erfurt in Erfurt, Germany, supported by a Freigeist Fellowship from the Volkswagen Stiftung. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University in Montreal and completed his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. His first book, The Human Rights Dictatorship: East Germany, the Collapse of State Socialism and the Rise of Global Human Rights, 1945–1990, will be published in 2019. Lynette Russell is Professor of Indigenous Studies (History) at the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage. She is the author or editor of 12 books and specializes in Aboriginal history.



Marie Sandell holds a PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London. Her publications include The Rise of Women’s Transnational Activism: Identity and Sisterhood Between the World Wars (2015) and articles in International History Review and History of Education. She teaches Modern History on the University of London International Programme. Caroline Shaw is Associate Professor of Modern European History and a member of the European Studies Program at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, USA. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MA and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Her first book, Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief, is a story of the development of humanitarian norms and liberalism on the global stage (2015). Shaw is currently investigating the peculiar status of reputation as a quasi-right in British legal culture. As with Britannia’s Embrace, this project is concerned with the nature of people’s responsibility to community, to nation and empire, and to abstract notions of justice. Stephanie J. Silverman teaches Ethics, Society and Law at Trinity College in the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada, and is a partner at the human rights consultancy Thinking Forward. Her research examines immigration detention and alternatives to detention programs among other topics. She is co-editor with Amy Nethery of Immigration Detention: The Migration of a Policy and its Human Impact (2015, rpt. 2017), and publishes peerreviewed journal articles, government reports, book chapters, working papers, and items in the popular press. McGill-Queens University Press will publish her monograph Demystifying Detention in 2019. Stephanie received her DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2013, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar and associated with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, and in 2017 she completed her tenure as the Bora Laskin National Fellow in Human Rights Research, awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Claire-Michelle Smyth graduated with a PhD from Queens University Belfast. She is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Brighton, Brighton, UK, where she researches and publishes widely in the area of social and economic rights. She is the author of Social and Economic Rights in Ireland (2017). Sarah B. Snyder teaches in the School of International Service at American University, Washington, DC, USA. She is the author of From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy (2018) and Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network (2011). She is co-editor with Nicolas Badalassi of The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972–1990 (2018). Rachel Standfield is Lecturer in the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. She is a historian of Indigenous societies and colonial histories in Australia and New Zealand, and has also worked in public policy and in support of Indigenous activism for human rights. She is editor of Indigenous Mobilities: Across and Beyond the Antipodes (2018), which opens new inquiries into travel and movement on Indigenous terms, and her monograph Race and Identity in the Tasman World, 1769–1840 (2012) explores and extends regional histories of colonialism and Indigenous encounters. xvi


Meredith Terretta holds the Gordon F. Henderson Research Chair in Human Rights and is Associate Professor of History at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She specializes in African liberation movements, legal activism, histories of refuge-seeking, and human rights. She is co-editor with Iris Berger et al. of African Asylum at a Crossroads: Activism, Expert Testimony, and Refugee Rights (2015). Her most recent singleauthored book is Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence: Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State-Building in Cameroon (2014). Her articles have appeared in numerous journals including Journal of Contemporary History, Politique Africaine, Journal of World History, Human Rights Quarterly, and Journal of African History. She is currently working on a book tentatively entitled Activism at the Fringes of Empire: Rogue Lawyers and Rights Activists in and out of 20thCentury Africa. Lora Wildenthal is John Antony Weir Professor of History and Associate Dean of Humanities at Rice University in Houston, Texas, USA. She is the author of German Women for Empire, 1884–1945 (2001) and The Language of Human Rights in West Germany (2013). Currently she is interested in labor rights as human rights and the history of wages. Steven Wilf is Anthony J. Smits Professor of Global Commerce at the University of Connecticut Law School. He received his PhD in History and JD from Yale University. Among his publications are The Law Before the Law (2008), Law’s Imagined Republic: Popular Politics and Criminal Justice in Revolutionary America (2010), and is co-editor with Graeme Gooday of Fashioning Global Patent Cultures: Diversity and Harmonization in Historical Perspective (forthcoming). He is currently writing a history of intellectual property law for Cambridge University Press. Afiya Shehrbano Zia holds a doctorate in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto, Canada. She is author of Faith and Feminism in Pakistan: Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy? (2018) and Sex Crime in the Islamic Context: Rape, Class and Gender in Pakistan (1994). She has edited a series of books and authored a dozen peer-reviewed essays in scholarly publications. Afiya is an active member of Women’s Action Forum, Pakistan. She has taught at the University of Toronto, Canada and currently teaches at Habib University in Karachi, Pakistan.



The editors would like to thank the many individuals and institutions who made this volume possible. First of all, we thank Brad Simpson for his early engagement. It was his early and influential guidance that helped set the project in motion. At Routledge, Eve Setch gave early and steady support, and Zoe Thomson helped us in the final stages. Several scholars responded to our calls but for various reasons were unable to participate. Their comments and participation enriched the collective discussion. These people at Rice University arranged generous funding that allowed our globally dispersed group to meet in person and via Zoom in May and October 2017: Alida Metcalf, Chair of the Department of History; Farès el-Dahdah, Director of the Humanities Research Center; Marie Lynn Miranda, Provost of Rice University; and Yousif Shamoo, Vice-Provost for Research, who supported us through Rice University’s Creative Ventures funding program. We could not have held our conferences without staff support in the Department of History, the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication, and the School of Humanities: Special thanks to Erin Baezner, Eric Granquist, Beverly Konzem, and Chi-Liang Yu. Christina Gomez and James Myers, doctoral students in the Department of History, provided conference and editing assistance. All translations are the authors’ own unless otherwise stated.


1 INTRODUCTION An open-ended and contingent history of human rights Jean H. Quataert and Lora Wildenthal

This essay collection offers historical perspectives on an array of human rights themes. We have assembled it in order to provide a sampling of the state of the field in human rights history, to give teachers and students of human rights a useful resource, and to make our own distinct interventions into the historiography of human rights. Our authors are not all professionally located as historians; all, however, emphasize the importance of historical context to understanding a field that is urgent for both its intellectual and its practical importance. We present here open-ended, contingent, non-linear and non-teleological histories of human rights. The very structure of the volume, which comprises essays that can stand alone as well as speak to each other (and, as e-chapters, are available for purchase both separately and in combination) helps to accomplish this task. It is important to us to avoid narratives of seemingly inevitable progress, and to avoid turns of phrase that imply that human rights are passed like a torch from generation to generation, that is, remain stable in content over time and across place. We do not seek to tell our readers one single story of human rights. Rather, we find manifold concepts and struggles and, like human rights themselves, these are often in tension with each other. Human rights are the stuff of contestation with no guarantees about the final result. Rights, after all, can be won and they can be lost; the cause of right alone cannot assure a just and fair outcome. While our collection provides no single or simple story, it is incumbent on scholars of human rights to help orient those who are new to this material. Our authors have ensured that their essays are comprehensible to those encountering the subject matter for the first time. We are mindful that human rights courses are often wide-ranging, while instructors (including ourselves) have necessarily limited areas of expertise – so we present this volume as a guide for both colleagues and students. Our volume refrains from folding these stories into a single formula, and therefore provides the necessary distance for a big picture of the strategic, political, and changing nature of human rights work. The mutability and variety of political opportunities are revealed by a richly empirical, geographically and temporally diverse history of human rights. Our essays draw upon the settings of South America, North America, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. They foreground institutions ranging from nineteenthcentury international commissions of inquiry to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN treaty-making process, and the UN Trusteeship Council, among others. 1


Here we will outline the points of emphasis that have guided this project and indicate our historiographical intervention. We give a brief glimpse of each essay in the volume, and suggest ways that readers might group essays to explore themes and temporal periods. Our collection emphasizes non-linear versions of history, law, and the voices of globally dispersed activists. Regarding non-linear versions of history, it is important to us not to foreclose the significance of particular episodes by folding them into a larger narrative that could reinscribe familiar understandings and power relations, or imply inevitability. This commitment means attention to specifics of time and place. Deeper understanding of difference cannot be intuited; it must grow out of confrontations with other times, places, and viewpoints. A deep grounding in historical specificity – what historians call “historicization” – helps to overcome simple linear narratives of historical change, which too readily reinforce Eurocentric biases of much human rights scholarship. In the absence of solid empirical research and documentation, particularly of less frequently studied countries and eras, it is all too easy to assume that abstracted and generalized European patterns are or were globally normative. Our authors are committed to foregrounding the local as well as the distinctly national, regional, and often nonWestern voices, perspectives, and struggles in human rights histories. We hope the case studies open new avenues for future research. Our authors make linkages and comparisons, showing how human rights discourses develop at various times; they do not emphasize claims about origins. Power is central to all these stories, but cannot be allowed to impose assumptions about what is important in histories of human rights. This is because histories about human rights show how our perceptions of power and weakness can be very different depending on the chronological or geographical scale of the investigation. With respect to law, we note that human rights discourse is a heavily legalized discourse as well as a moral and philosophical one. Efforts at legalization are common (though interestingly not universal) in human rights activity; they aim to translate rhetoric and ideological and political movements into something institutionalized. Those demanding and debating human rights often invoke existing international law, or seek new conventions and treaties, or use the law as a rhetorical device to express what should or should not exist. Invocations of law can lead people to perceive law as that which settles conflict, as something reified and powerful. In fact, however, international and even domestic law is mutable and multifaceted in its meanings and impacts. Law does not necessarily affirm rights. Moreover, because interpretation is the essence of any actor’s invocation of law, its meaning derives precisely from competing interpretations. Law is the point of departure for debate, not a conversation stopper. A number of our authors are legal scholars conscious of their task of addressing non-lawyers. They explicate the workings of law in the context of human rights in a manner that emphasizes law’s open-endedness and mutability. Several offer novel interpretations of international human rights laws. We bring forward a variety of voices of globally dispersed activists, especially those located outside centers of power in their own countries or located in countries found outside the circle of great powers. Ordinary people’s voices are vital to the history of human rights, which is in large part a history of social movements, and the essence of human rights is the challenge to authority. Moreover, the inclusion of voices from globally dispersed locations helps redress a Eurocentric and great power perspective that creeps into histories where 2


states, not people, appear as the key human rights actors. Ideas alone, however alluring, are not self-executing; they need human interventions and agency to become real – that is, material, concrete, and institutionally and legally embodied. These points of emphasis are important to us because unspoken expectations can govern how readers receive information about human rights. Human rights are highly politicized, which means that perceptions of them are partial and truncated at any given time and change considerably depending on the political moment. To gain a fuller understanding less constrained by our own political moment, it is important to take seriously contexts of past actions, advocacy, norms, and structures on their own terms. Moreover, the subject matter of human rights unleashes emotional responses in both authors and readers, and these emotional responses infuse understandings in ways we should be mindful of. The demand for impact and effectiveness in the area of human rights is high. Optimism and pessimism, frustration and empowerment swirl in the minds of activists, researchers, and readers, affecting how we analyze information in the domain of human rights. One result of human rights’ emotional freight can be an insistence on optimism, even against good historical judgement. Indeed, human rights can, if taken at their own prescriptive word, imply a teleological narrative of progress. Another result can be pessimism, including a dismissal of the power of ideas or of the relevance of seemingly useless past efforts. Worse, we can oscillate between these moods, with unreflected optimism flipping over rapidly to an equally unreflected cynicism. Like all movements resting on a politics of morality, human rights require emotional staying power. It is vital to escape a narrow perspective driven by a political moment, a mood, or reliance on an inevitably limited common sense. The historical study of human rights confronts us with material much more complicated than a hopeful story of progress or a dismal series of disappointments. It shows us multifarious stories that demonstrate the power and contingency of human rights ideas and action. The reward is not a definite answer or formula to apply to the problem of the day. Rather, the reward is more sophisticated thinking about the very nature of the interaction of ideas, institutions, and human interventions, an interaction that continually renews human rights opportunities. All the while, human rights activists must deal with the long-standing claims of states to sovereignty, national defense, and national security – the legal props of state autonomy and power that most notably infringe on individual and group rights. Historians are latecomers to the scholarship on human rights. For decades, the academic study of human rights was dominated by what we might call presentist perspectives of the social sciences, specifically sociology, political science and anthropology, and law. Such presentism arises from understanding human rights as a matter of policy challenges, and it highlights what seems effective or usable in the moment. Attention to change over time, including in the very meaning of human rights keywords, seems less pertinent in that context. Legal scholarship has tended to claim or imply an objective and universally valid method for reading legal doctrines, authoritative decisions, and the law’s structures and scope, independent of society. Such scholarship has taken the law too much at its own word by flattening time and space. These tendencies of legal scholars have limited historical inquiry and also the inquiry of students, who may well assume that if a law exists there must be no injustice.1 Historians’ interest in human rights as a promising topic of research emerged around the 1990s. With the formal ending of the Cold War, the 1990s were simultaneously a high point 3


of human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) activities, which exploded across the globe, and an expression of sustained networks of global interconnections, which prompted new research on the historical foundations of transnational linkages. Both NGOs and intensified globalization challenged the centrality of the nation-state and led to experiments in transnational, international, and global histories. The 1990s were a heady, optimistic time, and important early historical scholarship on human rights tended to present a story of unfolding progress and human rights as the selfevident fulfillment of the principles of human equality.2 This literature presented a hoped-for usable past for activism in the form of human rights genealogies. However, these genealogies reflected some fallacies of historical interpretation. For example, all kinds of historical expressions of rights and moral principles were marshaled as forerunners of human rights, as if all those actors had somehow sought the same goal.3 This produced linear histories, in which the assumed end result of developments shaped the narrative, such that, for example, the human rights system established formally in the United Nations (UN) in 1945 became the intentional and predetermined result of the facts the historian had chosen. A related approach saw human rights in cyclical terms, with the 1990s supposedly witnessing a “revival” or “rebirth” of European Enlightenment “rights talk” and humanitarian sentiments from the eighteenth century.4 Here too, the past is used for the present, and Europe is situated as the prime locus of human rights thought. These publications contained many important insights, yet teleology and rebirth are flawed as frameworks for historical interpretation. By the onset of the twenty-first century, an understanding of the paradoxes, unintended consequences, and ambiguities of human rights activism began to displace the early optimism. These phrases are now keywords of newer scholarship. This too reflects contemporary geopolitical transformations, which have led to a more sober assessment of the previous decade with its horrifying descent into wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocides, and also a mounting scholarly and activist critique of so-called humanitarian intervention and concern about the ease with which states have appropriated the language of human rights for invasion and occupation.5 Our section on accountability in the post-9/11 world shows the complicated politics of human rights advocacy in this new global setting. Ironically, the loss of optimism has been fruitful for opening up new areas of critical research. Human rights history entered a period of vibrant historiographical discussion and reflection. Research now critically examined human rights visions in international politics after World War II, their intersection with Cold War imperatives and the reshaping of domestic politics, and their resurgence in the 1970s and after the Cold War’s end.6 The UN-led humanitarian military interventions in the 1990s raised questions about historical forerunners, turning all manner of humanitarian expressions into compelling topics for historical investigation.7 Other work analyzed women’s and feminists’ contributions to human rights visions, laws, and advocacy, bringing gender as an analytical method and a description of power relations and violations into play.8 Critique of international law from within and without helped bring about new rapprochement by legal scholars with historians.9 Influential works focused on the 1970s as “breakthrough decade” or new origin point for human rights.10 This was salutary for its rejection of longer chronologies that had posed the above-mentioned problems of intentionality and oversimplification. However, this claim rested on Euro-American mass participation in new human rights causes since the 1970s, rather than a global view of that era. While the “breakthrough” thesis has generated exciting new research, as a new master chronology it would distort the history of human rights in the global South and foreshorten 4


specific chronologies. This collection responds with more open time frames and a more global perspective. It places the study of human rights in a wider geopolitical and cultural context. Our chronology extends from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. We do not claim the mid-nineteenth century as the proper starting or origin point for a study of human rights movements, mobilizations, ideals, or histories. Rather, we draw attention to that moment because of a confluence of changes that collectively promoted new transnational identifications, sentiments, institutional networks, and border crossings. It was in the nineteenth century that the law of nations governing the relations among states took on many of its present-day characteristics, not least due to the truly global spread of imperial colonization. The older positive and customary law affecting war and peace, commerce and trade, among other critical arenas of interaction, came to be increasingly multilateral and to be increasingly written down as codes and rules, in the hope of strengthening its power and enforceability. These codifications were framed so as to invite future participation by additional sovereign states, and thus became lasting institutions that facilitated ever-denser global interconnections. These changes inaugurated a new era in legal history.11 The expansion of international law’s scope and of states’ compliance became its own cause in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, both for the emerging profession of international lawyers and for a wide range of reformers and peace-minded men and women. The volume’s nineteenth-century starting point draws attention to entanglement and contradiction, an inevitable accompaniment to developments in rights and law when analyzed in the context of the geopolitical order. The nineteenth century marked the onset of what historians call the new imperialism (roughly 1870–1914). International law and European empire were mutually constitutive, to the point where international law still carries imperialist connotations and is suspect regarding both objectives and effects.12 Law has had continuous ties to various iterations of empire, from formal colonial rule in the later nineteenth century to more recent neoliberal policies, and from corporate interests to great power politics and rivalries.13 Rights language and its principle of nondiscrimination are not immune from co-optation and appropriation by these same forces and groups nationally and internationally. Human rights and international law both claim to adherence to universality, neutrality, and nonpartisan values, yet both are deeply entangled with power, imperial projects, national and elite self-interest, and the preservation of economic inequality. It is for this reason too that our story cannot simply be about progress. It is necessary to include the nineteenth century in critical histories of human rights in order to grasp the integration of international law, colonialism, and transnational reform movements. A prominent theme in this volume is the history of how those living under legacies of colonialism and in the midst of postcolonial predicaments have embraced, tested, and reformulated human rights ideas and ideals.

A big picture The scholarly collaboration for this volume originated with open calls for participation that drew a diverse set of scholars.14 Most were formally trained historians, a substantial number were legal scholars, and several more were social scientists and interdisciplinary scholars, including feminist and heritage studies scholars. We selected those who were actively researching in human rights materials (as opposed to summarizing the findings 5


of others) – lending empirical richness to their work – and those who historicized their findings, while we also sought to preserve the geographical, temporal, and thematic range of responses to our calls. We could not have predicted that wide range, which reinforces our point about the contingency of human rights. We hosted two conferences where conversations revealed the historiographical priorities outlined above. We workshopped papers there in pairs and groups but, importantly, we have avoided any requirement for interpretive uniformity. In what follows, we sketch out each essay’s contribution to the volume. While we have arranged the essays in rough chronological order, it is important to note that a number of our authors challenge received chronological milestones as part of their argument, based on their own research in various global locations. The volume’s subject matter opens in the second half of the long nineteenth century (to 1914), a period that falls between two historical eras that have received more attention in the human rights literature: eighteenth-century Enlightenment with its “rights talk,” and the World War II-era embrace of universal human rights by way of the 1945 UN Charter (which was binding treaty law) and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (non-binding in its origin but later accepted as the authoritative statement of human rights mentioned in the Charter).15 We label this latter part of the long nineteenth century the era of the “New Internationalism.” It was simultaneously a time of heightened nationalism and of new internationalist visions comprised of nations as actors understood as the authentic voices of their respective populations. Law came to be seen as a vehicle for progressive international relations, that is, the legalization of international relations seemed to hold the promise of sustaining peace, progress, and national cooperation. Legal testimony gained new prominence, as international commissions of inquiry practiced interstate fact-finding procedures to develop evidence with which to respond to atrocities. Mairi MacDonald refers to this development as a new “practice of persuasion,” and Benjamin Brockman-Hawe, Caroline Shaw, and Kimberly Lowe also focus on persuasive rhetorics as linkages between law and values.16 Practices of persuasion remind us to consider who is attempting to persuade whom regarding what rights of which people – and to consider how one may develop one’s own practices of persuasion. Nationalism bestowed new significance on ordinary people’s voices, while literacy and media markets created broader reading publics. The legacy of the transnational antislavery movement’s assertion of a common humanity is relevant here. The long nineteenth century also saw humanitarianism juxtaposed with human rights, a relationship that several later essays in the volume also examine. In Part I, Caroline Shaw takes us to a transnational public drawn from the United States, Canada and Britain. She reveals a counterpoint between legal statutes and the moralizing public in Canada and Britain that produces an innovative legal outcome in the case of John Anderson, who had been enslaved in the United States and was now facing extradition from Canada as a fugitive. Benjamin Brockman-Hawe’s setting is the Ottoman Empire, where he traces the efforts of multinational Commissions of Inquiry. These were new fact-finding institutions created in the absence of established international criminal law to respond to what had become known as atrocities, especially massacres and the suffering of refugees. The Commissions’ difficulties typified those that hamper human rights inquiries to this day. Mairi MacDonald makes an argument about the nature and possibilities of legal innovation by examining how evidence is composed. She frames the story of Roger Casement’s intervention into the atrocities of the Belgian 6


Congo as an exercise in a new methodology: she examines the very process of claiming and trying to enforce rights on behalf of distant human beings as a method for revealing linkages in the history of human rights. The way advocates select and report evidence can give strong indications of the strategies they pursue and the political outcomes they seek, and reveal correspondences to efforts in very different contexts. Because reformers like Casement did have access to a framework of international law (due to the internationalization of colonial rule), they were able to “restate the law in a way that could protect the natural rights of Congo’s Indigenous peoples.”17 Kimberly Lowe addresses the distinctions between humanitarianism (e.g. an immediate focus on relieving suffering) and human rights law (legal norms concerning soldiers and civilians, especially refugees, that may or may not reduce suffering on the ground). Her account depicts the tension between humanitarianism and human rights in the International Red Cross movement from its inception in 1863 until 1949. All four of the essays in this section make the case for the importance of detailed investigations of human rights concepts and institutions located in the long nineteenth century and a careful focus on the workings of law. They work against the assumption that humanitarian sentiment gave rise to human rights law; rather, these elements remain, even up to today, in creative tension with each other. Part II, “The Interwar Era: The League of Nations,” holds a pivotal place in our volume. As scholars elsewhere have recently demonstrated, the League of Nations is key for a historical understanding of our subject matter.18 Far from an episode of mere failure, it was a new era of intergovernmental organization with a new global center, Geneva, attracting all manner of state and non-state advocacy groups.19 The League’s various missions created openings for marginalized people, including women, to join a transnational public sphere. Men and women discussing reforms in League venues carried forward the nineteenth-century vision of legalizing international relations, this time with even greater urgency concerning the threat of yet more war. While the League failed, that does not mean that its emphases and findings were wrong. Marie Sandell shows the emergence of women’s internationalist activism in the midst of World War I and recaptures a lost human rights language of pacifism. Regula Ludi demonstrates how partial and contingent the incorporation of women into discourses of law actually was, something hard to see at first given the seemingly simple statements of sex equality in the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She argues for “conceptual linkages” when exploring political imagination over time and demonstrates why people’s battle cries for justice in the 1930s were used after 1945 to deepen the human rights principle of nondiscrimination at the level of the UN. Hers is a contingent and not automatic story. Both Ludi’s actors and the women internationalist pacifists spotlighted in Sandell’s essay focused attention on discrimination. We mention here Kimberly Lowe’s essay again as a reminder of how the essay topics push past established chronologies: Lowe’s analysis is important for understanding the interwar era, as 1921 was the moment when the ICRC sought formally to make the major transition from focusing solely on its humanitarian mission for wounded soldiers to including civilians and refugees in its mission. The Red Cross was prescient in its appreciation of the blurring of military and civilian arenas in industrial warfare, civil strife, and terror tactics up to the present day. Together, the essays in this section demonstrate how critical the interwar era is for an understanding of human rights. Together with nineteenth-century ideas of human rights, these essays throw into the relief the improvised and incomplete nature of the post-World War II arrangements that are familiar to us. 7


Part III, “The Formative UN Era,” takes up the first years of the iteration of human rights with which our readers are most familiar. In 1945, in the aftermath of the devastations of two World Wars fought in the heartland of the great powers rather than only on the colonial periphery, victors created a new, unprecedentedly strong institutional framework that, as later years were to show, was capable of further strengthening – especially regarding human rights investigation and sanctions.20 In those early years there was broad-based support for universalism, even as there were also profound divides. The Cold War soon took hold, and decolonization struggles unfolded in that context. The UN understandably dominates this era, but in those years it was not yet representative of the entire political world. It is important to highlight globally dispersed voices at this time who seized on the universalist promise to add their visions of justice. Not everything significant about human rights at that time emanated from the UN, however. On the contrary: The UN’s prominence in human rights developed because of the pressures people all over the world exerted on it to respond to their needs, leading to a human rights mission much greater than what the UN founders had anticipated. Part III is comprised of three sections: “UN Treaty-Making,” “Decolonization,” and “Socialist and Capitalist Versions of Human Rights.” In the first part, “UN Treaty-Making,” Claire-Michelle Smyth illustrates Cold War divides as she undoes the ideological separation of rights into political on one hand and social and economic on the other. Her analysis of the actual impacts of relevant law shows that the divide originated in politics, rather than inhering in legal logic or practice. Rachel George examines the role of reservations in the human rights treaty-making process, which allows her to reveal some change over time and convergence among states parties around questions of religion (here, Islam) and universal human rights. By taking seriously the discussions recorded at the moment of signing human rights treaties, which reveal more common ground than one might expect, she shows the value of these sources for analyzing the major human rights problem of how to relate cultural specificity to universalism. Linde Lindkvist likewise examines the treaty-making process, in this case concerning a debate between the Red Cross and various NGOs on whether child soldiers should be protected through international humanitarian law or through human rights convention such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Like Lowe, Lindkvist offers a vivid account of the costs and controversies of blurring the boundary between humanitarianism and human rights. The second section of Part III, “Decolonization,” includes essays by Meredith Terretta, Roland Burke, and James Kirby that explore what happened when human rights were taken seriously in colonial contexts that inherently violate human rights. Meredith Terretta sees colonial Africa from the 1920s to the 1970s as a “pivotal site” for the emergence of transnational rights activism.21 The visions of inhabitants of white-ruled territories of Africa concerning rights to self-determination, racial and economic equality, and education did not necessarily lead to positive international human rights innovations at the level of norm or treaty. Yet they show us how fertile the ground was for post-World War II debates about the meaning of human rights. Non-legal human rights ideas were advanced in the earlier years of those decades that did come to be legalized in the 1960s, 1970s, and later. Knowledge of these voices has been obscured by the simple lack of research – itself a major source of misguided argument in the history of human rights – and by NGOs from the global North whose institutionalized power in more recent years has selected among and disproportionately shaped possible meanings of human rights in Africa. Roland Burke observes that the well-known argument that 8


human rights are imperialist has lacked grounding in historical research. He offers that research here, examining political debates about the relationship between development and human rights. He traces the argument that a country with a less developed economy should not be held accountable to the same human rights standards as a country with a more developed economy, an argument known as the “development exception.” Burke shows how the “development exception” changed location and its very nature over time: While in the interwar and early post-World War II years colonial great powers invoked the development exception, claiming that their territories’ lower level of development meant that human rights norms were not fully applicable, after decolonization it was postcolonial heads of state who invoked the exception. Meanwhile, the nature of the exception changed subtly, from one concerning passage through economic stages to an assertion of essential, permanent cultural difference. Lost in both versions were the demands of ordinary people for holding their political leadership accountable through democratic procedures. James Kirby tells a very different story equally vital to our knowledge of African voices in human rights. Kirby shows how Seretse Khama, the first president of the geographically vulnerable nation of Botswana, used international human rights as a mode of securing his country’s national integrity against the pressures of its neighbor, apartheid South Africa, and also of the Organization of African Unity, which sought to draw it into African liberation struggles. It is an unusual story of how the embrace of international human rights served to augment state power. Neither cynical nor hypocritical, Seretse developed an effective recipe that is suggestive of how small countries can benefit in various ways from embracing international governance structures. Seretse’s regime drew on notions of individual liberties as well as principles of national self-determination to defend independence and sovereignty. “Socialist and Capitalist Versions of Human Rights” is the third section in Part III concerning the UN era. Eileen Boris and Jill Jensen examine the efforts of the International Labour Organization (ILO), an important yet often overlooked human rights institution, to integrate women workers’ needs into international labor standards. Like Regula Ludi’s essay, that by Boris and Jensen offers an account of the complexities of gendering abstract international norms, and like Claire-Michelle Smyth’s essay, it is a substantial account of claiming economic rights as human rights. While in the interwar years it was capitalist member countries and activists who supported a “difference feminism” approach using protectionist measures for women, by the later Cold War years it was state socialists and non-aligned countries who argued for protections for women; subsequently capitalist countries tended to support gender-blind norms. These puzzles are with us still. Ned Richardson-Little recovers the well-elaborated human rights doctrines of the German Democratic Republic – important for a human rights historiography that continues to be too ignorant of socialist legacies in human rights thinking. His main contention is that it was East Germans’ reception of the socialist language of human rights that planted the seeds of democratization leading to 1989 and the iconic fall of the Berlin Wall, more than East Germans’ adoption of Western liberal human rights ideas. East Germany’s failure to live up to its human rights promises, particularly regarding social and economic rights, undermined the regime’s legitimacy among ordinary East Germans and even among members of the regime who had internalized the promises of socialist human rights. Examining socialist voices in international institutions such as the ILO and within socialist regimes is important for gaining a more accurate sense of the global discussion of social and economic rights. While Richardson-Little gives the reader 9


a strong sense of the distinctiveness of socialist human rights, Pitman Potter’s essay on the People’s Republic of China today pulls in a different direction. Potter shows how the socialist regime’s responses to challenges from human rights advocates actually fit into a long tradition of ideas of state sovereignty and authority. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), similar to its erstwhile East German counterpart, has participated in human rights covenants and has broadcast its achievements in the area of rights, the CCP also makes clear that those achievements are to be defined and enacted by the party-state, not by ordinary people outside the party-state’s apparatus. When the latter do articulate claims, Potter argues, it is perhaps less the rights at issue that have led to controversy for officials than what party leaders see as the claimants’ illegitimacy, their lack of standing in the party-state to speak out. Finally, Sarah Snyder takes readers to the United States, a great power, key architect of the UN system, and defender of capitalist freedoms. Her essay details official uses of human rights principles in the calculation of US foreign policy objectives. Snyder shows a surprisingly consistent pattern of deference to national interests over defense of rights across varied presidential administrations after 1945, with a few exceptions when pushed by congressional activism or human rights NGOs. In the George W. Bush administration, she notes soberly, it was US human rights abuses that became matters of serious international concern. Part IV, “After Formal Empire and the Cold War: How Human Rights Are Practiced Around the Globe (1980s–2001),” highlights the era of NGO optimism, when human rights activism in NGOs seemed to herald the success of human rights politics and ordinary people’s heroic actions. The essays here are studies of civil society activism at a time when the model of the human rights NGOs took hold around the world. These essays contextualize this advocacy work in specific settings and highlight the challenges it faced and still faces. Catherine Baylin Duryea introduces us to human rights NGOs in three environments that are not very hospitable to such work: the Palestinian West Bank, Morocco, and Kuwait. She shows how each NGO responded to its environment in order to sustain its work. In each case, activists turned to human rights and international law as a way to avoid the quagmire of local party politics; they embraced the human rights that were most relevant to their specific circumstances; and these were classic rights that their governments could not openly repudiate with ease. While these activists were often unsuccessful in bringing about major social change, and have not become well known outside their regions, their work shows that they did see the compatibility of international human rights and the specific problems they faced. Jadwiga Pieper Mooney’s essay on Chilean women’s activism under Pinochet makes a different argument: that Chile’s high visibility in the UN human rights institutional setting in those years meant that women’s activism there concerning gendering human rights became influential at a transnational level – which in turn helped to end dictatorship. Jennifer Adair takes up the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an iconic human rights NGO, but with the unusual question of what happened after dictatorship’s end. She examines how an NGO deals with what (at least initially) appears to be success. The Mothers, Adair shows, broadened their agenda beyond accountability for torture and murder to encompass social and economic rights that were under pressure in the post-dictatorship years of neoliberal reforms. They sustained their mix of pragmatic and idealistic work under more and less friendly regimes, seeking to avoid co-optation while also greeting long-denied fruits of their work with the ending of amnesty for past crimes. Adair, like Lavrence in the latter’s examination of museum practice, raises the issue of how closeness to governments can co-opt human 10


rights messages, or at least create the appearance of doing so. Afiya Shehrbano Zia provides a compelling account of one of Pakistan’s most important human rights activists, Asma Jahangir, against a background of NGO activism that has brilliantly highlighted key legal issues of equality for minorities and for women. Jahangir and other activists have navigated a complex and shifting political environment of modernizing dictators, Islamist dictators, and so-called postsecular intellectuals by keeping their eye on the rule of law and by exploiting possibilities for legal innovation. As with several other essays in this book, here too we see the strong salience of international human rights norms for voices outside the global North. The studies of NGOs in this section show common patterns and problems emerging during those years of NGO “optimism,” such as the influence of Western financial backing on the leadership structure of local NGOs, which could push them to respond more to donor priorities than pressing community needs. Part V, “The Universal Human Rights Pantheon in National Contexts,” showcases essays that examine how a major human rights principle has played out in one national setting – even as the theme pushes activism beyond state borders. This examination of mobilization around a specific cause over the long term in one national setting provides a grounding in the ramifications of that right and suggests to readers how they might develop research questions about the right in other contexts. Lori Beaman opens the section with her essay on the freedom of religion in Canada. Religion, an old indicator of human difference that has long been important for international relations, appears here in a survey encompassing centuries of colonial history as well as postcolonial and current issues. Such issues include the imperative of decentering Christianity; the rights of the non-religious; and the politics of redefining religion as culture in a self-consciously multicultural state. Rachel Standfield and Lynette Russell carry out a similarly structured survey of Indigenous rights in the setting of the state of Victoria in Australia. They highlight distinctive Aboriginal forms of social organization and kinship ties that have sustained the movement. They trace phases of Indigenous peoples’ rights mobilizations from nineteenth-century struggles within the colonial authorities’ “humanitarian” protection system to demands for full citizenship in the later twentieth century to more recent renewed land claims using UN and state-based networks. Indigenous struggles undergird notions of both collective and individual rights. Laura Belmonte surveys the rights of lesbians, gays, and other sexual minorities in US and European settings, highlighting the impacts of innovation and context on activism. Her long-term perspective provokes reflection on what has made the securing of rights possible and what continues to endanger activists. Adam R Houston takes up the right to health in the setting of the Pacific Islands, examining responses to leprosy and HIV there. He glosses the latter as the first illness to have emerged during the human rights era. Houston shows Pacific Islanders talking back to so-called outsider medical experts during both the colonial and postcolonial era, experts who often projected their own notions of isolation and illness onto the islands. The ensuing debate that he traces shows how ideas of the rights of the ill and the rights of surrounding society patterned debates about these illnesses. Part VI, “New Forms of Accountability in a National Security World (2001–present),” encompasses essays on international law innovations in the difficult post-9/11 global context. Even as we observe a resurgence of state sovereignty, we also see deepening forces of economic globalization working against such political trends. In addition, we see the continued activist drive to transnationalize human rights, a drive that responds to and in some ways benefits from the processes of economic globalization. 11


The world of the 2000s up to today is very different from that of the 1990s. Activists’ optimism about NGOs’ ability to remake international relations has lessened, yet activism remains a powerful force for governments and for-profit corporations to reckon with. Steven S. Nam reviews the history of the principle of corporate (business) accountability since the Nuremberg Trials in the wake of World War II. While the US Alien Tort Statute once seemed a promising path for prosecution of corporate criminality, the United States and other states have stepped away from that legal instrument. Nam points to the promise of polycentric, public/private diplomatic negotiations as vehicles for accountability that include NGOs as voices of civil society. While this strategy lacks the promise of strong legal sanction that the Alien Tort Statute offered, in some cases it has proven more effective at bringing all affected parties to the table. Nam sees here an empirical basis for a viable new legal model of transnational corporate accountability. Ulrike Capdepón examines how the principle of universal jurisdiction has functioned in a transnational story of accountability connecting Chile, Spain, and Argentina. In each country, domestic political debates took hold whose actors had to answer to legal demands emanating from institutions located in other countries – and these demands were in turn responses to those internal political contexts. These countries’ domestic political spaces became thereby linked. While impunity persisted, precedents concerning transnational justice strategies reverberated through all three national polities, constituting a new form of extraterritorial human rights prosecutions and memory politics. Vera Mackie examines accountability for gender violence, particularly in military settings, in East Asia and in the former Yugoslavia. In particular, she analyzes how sexual violence became a matter of international concern in the first place, in the wake of World War II and, subsequently, in the Balkans in the 1990s, and demonstrates how gender transforms the categories of violation in human rights norms. Anca Claudia Prodan traces the confluence of heritage law and international human rights in her study of how heritage rights have affected state behavior, including by serving to limit state sovereignty. Once more, we see that a focus on practice reveals that supposedly marked distinctions between individual rights and group rights can be blurred in actuality. This observation also holds in Steven Wilf’s essay on the relationship between human rights and intellectual property rights since the late eighteenth century. Both of these legal domains, Wilf asserts, are critical to human flourishing: One protects the body, while the other asserts guardianship over the mind’s artistic expression and technological invention. They have evolved through “wary” encounters.22 Wilf examines how the various claims were asserted in different historical settings and adjudicated over time, which in turn lay a foundation for transnational governance. Finally, Stephanie Silverman and Petra Molnar offer a graphic and moving reading of immigration detention policies in liberal societies, using the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada as their main examples. The practice of detention operates through opaque and discretionary administrative decision-making, and therefore challenges traditions of individual liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest that have been enshrined as human rights and international law norms. The authors offer a historical overview of immigration detention, and show how the trend of criminalizing migration and mobilities accelerated after 9/11 in scope and breadth. The essay demonstrates the real-life dangers of sidelining human rights principles in favor of trumped-up, often meritless, national security concerns. Finally, Part VII, “The Transformative Impact of Human Rights on Knowledge,” includes essays that show how human rights thinking has implications for knowledge creation. Human rights ideas and activism have transformed both institutions shaping historical memory and academic subject matter. Michelle Carmody examines the 12


emergence of human rights archives in the wake of dictatorships in Argentina and Paraguay. She shows the changing role of information about human rights violations in transitional justice efforts. Information had played a central role in transitional justice initiatives like truth commissions and trials during the 1980s and early 1990s. Those endeavors intersected with new ideas about justice beginning to circulate in the mid1990s that emphasized memory rather than the law as the key to guaranteeing a stable, human rights-respecting order. This shift resulted in the creation of archives that were designed to facilitate the construction of memory from the perspective of the victims. In other words, changing ideas about the nature of justice have shaped human rights archives in post-dictatorship polities. Christine Lavrence provides the reader with an up-close tour of the architecture and exhibits of a state-approved human rights museum in Canada, as she summarizes the original impetus for establishing the museum and the national debate that ensued. Canada’s effort to create a national human rights museum was pioneering, and has raised the question (broached also in Adair’s essay) of the unintended effects of state approval of human rights projects – namely, the perception and danger of co-optation. Lavrence analyzes the spaces and exhibits in terms of their goal of producing certain forms of empathy while foreclosing others – in effect, individualizing the emotional arc of learning about human violations while reassuring visitors that resolution is possible. Jessica M. Frazier gives our readers a vibrant example of how she teaches human rights as both mode and subject matter. That is, human rights principles have shaped her pedagogy as well as providing her with subject matter for her history course. Frazier teaches through published primary and secondary materials, uses documentaries, and ends the course with students producing their own videos. The essay is a valuable real-life example and guide for instructors of courses on human rights.

E-version flexibility: alternative themes and perspectives Our commitment to integrating research and pedagogy distinguishes our collection from other edited volumes in the field.23 The electronic version of this book allows for multiple uses and groupings according to themes. The innovative format of e-versions of each chapter aids in this endeavor. These e-chapters can be assigned to students singly or in any combination adapted to a particular course; similarly, any reader can order an e-chapter or any combination of chapters. We offer some possibilities here to assist those teaching and training in the new history of human rights. Below, we regroup essays according to the following themes: international law; colonialism and decolonization; gender and sexuality; and activism. Each of these themes are substantial components of international human rights. The essays relevant to international law extend from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. These authors offer fine-grained accounts of legal development and change over 150 years. Human rights is largely about law, yet it is difficult to come to grips with law’s dynamism and functions. As an operating system, international law offers rules and regulations that govern the behavior of states, individuals, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations in international society. Law opens up new frameworks for transnational cooperation and advocacy, yet at the same time sets powerful limits to effective action in international society. Indeed, at times, the law’s structures can work to impede normative change and, thus, widen the gaps between shifting societal understandings of justice and fair play and the law’s rules and doctrines.24 13


International law, while not necessarily foremost in popular understanding of rights struggles – not even for the community of activists themselves – has emerged as a decisive context for transnational rights advocacy. International law is both a prescriptive and a normative system, reflecting a set of values that help constitute human behaviors and not merely mirror them. Not surprisingly, then, over time international law has become increasingly infused with the transformative understandings of humanitarian and human rights sentiments – and in turn has worked to spread their messages. There is nothing abstract about the developments in international law. They are embedded in changing social norms and times and, as historian of human rights Samuel Moyn has recognized, speak to the “importance of social movements [for] legal priorities.”25 Put another way: The close ties between law and society mean that understandings of the law often turn on insights beyond the law itself.26 Readers interested in international law should turn to the essays by Caroline Shaw, Benjamin Brockman-Hawe, Mairi MacDonald, Claire-Michelle Smyth, Rachel George, Linde Lindkvist, Catherine Baylin Duryea, Steven Nam, Ulrike Capdepón, Anca Claudia Prodan, and Steven Wilf. Our volume contends that the history of human rights requires an examination of colonial contexts and postcolonial politics. As noted above, the histories of international law and colonial rule have been intertwined. One major line of interpretation denies the compatibility of anticolonial movements with international human rights. Many of our authors contest this line of interpretation. Readers interested in the theme of colonialism and anticolonial politics in human rights should look at the essays by Mairi MacDonald, Meredith Terretta, Roland Burke, James Kirby, Lori Beaman, Rachel Standfield and Lynette Russell, Adam R Houston, and Christine Lavrence. Women, gender, and sexuality are substantial components of this volume. In a number of our essays, women are prominent as activists and also as the intended objects of human rights norms. Feminist activism has led to entirely new protections for gender-specific violations, protections not foreseen by the original UN Charter’s sex equality clause. Applying the norms to women has proven to be complex due to the masculine meanings of long-standing rights formulations. Here we recommend the essays by Marie Sandell, Regula Ludi, Eileen Boris and Jill Jensen, Rachel George, Jadwiga Pieper Mooney, Jennifer Adair, Laura Belmonte, Vera Mackie, and Afiya Shehrbano Zia. We also claim that it is insufficient to focus on institutions, treaty-making, and legal norms as if they capture the full project of human rights. Human rights change has been driven by the pressures of often ordinary people. The recovery of their voices and the analysis of the mode and politics of their interventions and the barriers they faced continue to be research desiderata. Readers who wish to focus on activism, voluntary associations, and NGOs should turn to the essays by Caroline Shaw, Mairi MacDonald, Kimberly Lowe, Marie Sandell, Linde Lindkvist, Meredith Terretta, Catherine Baylin Duryea, Jadwiga Pieper Mooney, Jennifer Adair, Afiya Shehrbano Zia, Laura Belmonte, Vera Mackie, and Michelle Carmody. The above thematic groupings do not provide definitive answers to human rights challenges, but they do offer empirical richness. They are designed to help readers pose their own questions. The essays in this collection each reflect original research and offer a distinct methodological, theoretical, and interpretive contribution. Each is written to stand alone and yet also serves as part of the whole volume. Taken together, they show a long, complicated global 14


story of struggle for emancipation, socio-economic and gender justice, and the affirmation of collective and individual selfhood, struggle that continues into the present day. We have presented our chronological framework, thematic groupings, and the reasons why these narratives are open and contingent, with no certainty about outcomes. As a study of history, this book reflects its own historical present. We locate this book in our “post-NGO optimism” world. We live today in challenging times, where the sentiments and values, networks and laws, as well as multilateral institutional connections that are at the center of human rights history are partially eclipsed by rising intolerance, wars and civil strife, and a resurgence of illiberal regimes and of nationalist thinking and action. People still suffer at the hands of repressive governments, as well as at the hands of powerful state leaders and elites who stand idly by, indifferent or, worse, complicit. Economic inequality is increasing within and between states and peoples, given the constraints of present-day globalization. The once electrifying promise of “never again” rings more hollow today, not least because while inaction seemed to be part of the problem in the 1990s, in our own time militarized action has manifested itself as part of the problem as well. Yet a multitude of obstacles were part of the historical record from the start of our chronology. Quite unexpectedly, ordinary people operating in ordinary and extraordinary times changed the global moral, legal, and institutional landscape, testing in various iterations new standards of conduct for states, intergovernmental organizations, corporations, and peoples. Historians are not in the business of prediction. We cannot say whether human rights as norms and laws will be a viable guide for the future. But we do hope that the empirically rich and historically specific lessons here about roadblocks and the possibilities for change will be incorporated widely into classroom instruction, so that the next human rights outcomes will be our readers’ concerns as well.

Notes 1 Mainstream legal scholars claim that legal analysis offers an impartial authority that allows the practitioner to stand outside the social order to reflect on the world objectively. For an overview, see Richard Falk, Friedrich Kratochwil, and Saul H. Mendlovitz, International Law: A Contemporary Perspective, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985. For feminist perspectives, see Hilary Charlesworth and Christine Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000, and Mary Jane Mossman, “Feminism and Legal Method: The Difference It Makes,” Australian Journal of Law and Society, 1986, vol. 3, 30–52. For a historical assessment of law in practice see Jean H. Quataert, “A New Look at International Law: Gendering the Practices of Humanitarian Medicine in Europe’s Small Wars, 1879–1907,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2018, vol. 40, no. 3, 547–69. 2 See, in particular, Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. The book is cast globally and provides fascinating details of activism prior to 1945. Capturing a simplistic optimism in the field, Linda Kerber, president of the American Historical Association stated in 2006 that “we are all historians of human rights.” Linda Kerber, Perspectives on History. The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, 2006, vol. 44, no. 7. Online. Available at (accessed 11 November 2018). 3 Reza Afshari, “On Historiography of Human Rights. Reflections on Paul Gordon Lauren’s The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2007, vol. 29, no. 1, 1–67. 4 Micheline R. Ishay (ed.), The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Essays, Speeches, and Documents from the Bible to the Present, New York: Routledge, 1997; Lauren, Evolution; Jan Herman Burgers, “The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human Rights Idea in the Twentieth









Century,” Human Rights Quarterly, 1992, vol. 14, no. 4, 447–77; and, more recently, Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History, New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Many human rights and humanitarian NGOs supported the Security Council’s new initiative of “humanitarian” military interventions sent to keep people safe in the civil strife and armed conflicts breaking out in the decade of the 1990s. Opinion shifted dramatically after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, partly because authorities justified the war as a defense of human rights and promotion of women’s rights. For critical assessments of humanitarianism, see Didier Fassin and Mariella Panolfi (eds.), Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions, New York: Zone, 2010; and Eric D. Weitz, “From the Vienna to the Paris System: International Politics and the Entangled Histories of Human Rights, Forced Deportations, and Civilizing Missions,” American Historical Review, 2008, vol. 113, no. 5, 1313–43. Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009; A. W. Brian Simpson, Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi, Human Rights at the UN: The Political History of Universal Justice, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008; Roland Burke, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010; Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York: Random House, 2002; Carol Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944–1955, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003; and Sarah B. Snyder, From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed US Foreign Policy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. An essential resource is David P. Forsythe’s massive Encyclopedia of Human Rights, 5 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. See also Kenneth Cmiel, “The Recent History of Human Rights,” American Historical Review, 2004, vol. 109, no. 1, 117–35; Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Greg Grandin, Lynn Hunt, and Marilyn B. Young (eds.), Human Rights and Revolutions, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000; and Jean H. Quataert, Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. An account from an activist’s perspective is Aryeh Neier, The International Human Rights Movement: A History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. This literature is large; see e.g. Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011; Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918–1922, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014; and Keith David Watenpaugh, “The League of Nations’ Rescue of Armenian Genocide Survivors and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism, 1920–1927,” American Historical Review, 2010, vol. 115, no. 5, 1315–39. See, for an aid perspective on the ground, David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. This literature is likewise large. See, among many other possible sources, “Human Rights, Global Conferences and the Making of Postwar Transnational Feminisms,” a special issue edited by Jean H. Quataert and Benita Roth of the Journal of Women’s History, 2012, vol. 24, no. 4; Amrita Basu (ed.), Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010; Julie Peters and Andrea Wolper (eds.), Women’s Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives, New York: Routledge, 1995; and Bert B. Lockwood (ed.), Women’s Rights: A Human Rights Quarterly Reader, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. On how these debates challenge contemporary feminist theory and theorists, see Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003 and Brooke A. Ackerly, Universal Human Rights in a World of Difference, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. See especially Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 9. See also Jean H. Quataert, “International Law and Human Rights: Diverging and Converging Histories,” New Global Studies, 2012, vol. 6, no. 3, 1–22. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010; and Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds.), The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Moyn has recently, in dialogue with Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, repositioned the debate to the 1990s. See Stefan-



11 12

13 14


16 17 18

19 20 21 22 23

24 25 26

Ludwig Hoffmann, “Viewpoint: Human Rights and History,” Past & Present, 2016, no. 232, no. 1, 279–310, and Samuel Moyn, “The End of Human Rights History,” Past & Present, 2016, vol. 233, no. 1, 307–22. For an alternative interpretation of the 1970s as a moment when neoliberal economists hijacked the human rights agenda, see Joseph Slaughter, Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law, New York: Fordham University Press, 2007. See Arthur Nussbaum, A Concise History of the Law of Nations, New York: Macmillan, 1950, pp. 191, 198. Nussbaum sees the mid-nineteenth century as the beginning of a “new era” in legal history. See also Koskenniemi, Gentle Civilizer, p. 6. The “new imperialism” is a common designation for the period when many European states as well as the United States and Japan established formal colonial empires in Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia. The key study on the intertwining of colonialism and imperialism from the sixteenth century onwards is Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. In addition to Anghie, Imperialism, see B. S. Chimni, “Third World Approaches to International Law: A Manifesto,” International Community Law Review, 2006, vol. 8, 3–27. For our call, see “Call for Chapter Proposals for Innovative Volume in the History of Human Rights.” Online. Available at 106760/call-chapter-proposals-innovative-volume-history-human-rights (accessed 11 November 2018). On the place of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in international law, see Hurst Hannum, “The Status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in National and International Law” Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, 1996, vol. 25, no. 287, 289–397, 317–35. Mairi MacDonald, “Reclaiming Congo Reform for the History of Human Rights,” p. 57, in this volume. MacDonald, “Reclaiming,” p. 71, in this volume. Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004; and more recently Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution. European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Carol Miller, “‘Geneva – The Key to Equality’: Inter-War Feminism and the League of Nations,” Women’s History Review, 1994, vol. 3, no. 2, 219–45. See e.g. Mark Goodale (ed.), Letters to the Contrary: A Curated History of the UNESCO Human Rights Survey, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018. Meredith Terretta, “‘Why Then Call It the Declaration of Human Rights?’ The Failures of Universal Human Rights in Colonial Africa’s Internationally Supervised Territories,” p. 203, in this volume. Steven Wilf, “Intellectual Property Law and Human Rights,” p. 560, in this volume. See e.g. Cynthia Soohoo, Catherine Albisa, and Martha Davis (eds.), Bringing Human Rights Home: A History of Human Rights in the United States, 3 vols., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009; Mark Philip Bradley and Patrice Petro (eds.), Truth Claims: Representation and Human Rights, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002; Akira Iriye, Petra Goedde, and William I. Hitchcock (eds.), The Human Rights Revolution: An International History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012; Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (ed.), Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010; and Eckel and Moyn (eds.), The Breakthrough. Charlotte Ku and Paul F. Diehl, “International Law as Operating and Normative Systems: An Overview,” in Ku and Diehl (eds.), International Law: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 3rd ed., Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2009, pp. 1–18. Moyn, Last Utopia, p. 180. Quataert, Advocating Dignity, p. 13.



2 JOHN ANDERSON – SLAVE, REFUGEE, AND FREEDOM FIGHTER A human rights campaign in the age of empire Caroline Shaw

In October 1860, the US government requested the extradition of an alleged murderer from Canada. John Anderson had indeed killed a man in Missouri in 1853 and fled to Canada, where he first established himself in Windsor as a laborer under an assumed name. Canadian officials immediately arrested Anderson and began proceedings for Anderson’s return under the terms of the reigning US–British extradition clauses of the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty. The extradition of a suspected murderer for trial would not normally have attracted notice from public commentators or activists in Canada or in the United Kingdom. However, the difference of Anderson’s case became readily apparent to officials and to activists on both sides of the Atlantic. The US secretary of state had failed to mention that John Anderson had been a slave in the American South.1 Anderson had stabbed a man intent on returning him to bondage. Understood in this light, Anderson’s return to the South would have made a mockery of justice. For those who rallied to Anderson’s side, American slavery deprived men and women of “all human rights.”2 The demand that Britons become complicit in a system by returning a slave who had fought for his freedom added insult to injury. It was unfathomable, his lawyer proclaimed, that they would add to slavery’s violation of “human rights” by further depriving this man of “the universally allowed natural prerogative of our species” for a person to “strike a justifiable blow in defense of his personal liberty.”3 The unthinkable very nearly did happen, however, for the Webster–Ashburton Treaty’s clauses on extradition contained no exemptions for fugitive slaves.4 Moreover, injunctions against refusing refuge for any foreign refugees – though deeply embedded in British culture in this period – were not yet articulated in domestic, imperial, or international policy.5 That Anderson was not extradited to the United States in the winter of 1861 was not a matter of a human rights regime, but rather a matter of the power of a moralizing public and antislavery activists to demand that the government act in accordance with shared commitment to a right to liberty and sense of public responsibility to uphold that right for persecuted foreigners as well as for themselves. This essay uses John Anderson’s story to explore the relationship between humanitarianism and popular and official discussions of universal rights and their incorporation into institutional norms in the nineteenth century. Scholars have tended to describe this relationship as a handoff from humanitarianism, on the one hand, to codified rights – policy and law – on the other.6 Anderson’s case helps us to move beyond this model, in 21


favor of a more dynamic relationship between humanitarianism and human rights, joining newer scholarship in refugee history and international antislavery efforts that revises the chronology of human rights efforts.7 I argue that Anderson’s lawyers, the John Anderson Committee, public protests, and addresses to officials on either side of the Atlantic reveal an already deeply entrenched commitment to protecting individuals’ right to liberty from unjust foreign laws in the century before our more modern human rights regime took root in international law. John Anderson’s history was not the first time the wider public safeguarded the rights of foreigners, foreign slaves included. Indeed the Anderson case, seen in a wider context, is a successor to earlier public and official efforts to embed changing humanitarian norms in national, imperial, and international policy. These efforts bore fruit. While reluctant to impose universal norms on an independent Canadian judiciary and conscious of tense diplomacy with the United States, activists ensured the sanctity of that “universally allowed natural prerogative of our species,” the right to liberty. Their language – their hopes for a more robust and just system of international justice and their fears of what this justice might spell for international peace – ought to be strikingly familiar to us today.8

The language of activism: key concepts at a critical crossroads Anderson’s case challenges scholars’ tendency to downplay the nineteenth century in histories of human rights. This literature highlights the twentieth century as the matrix of the modern human rights regime. According to these scholars, the nineteenth century saw advances in civil rights, which are inherently local and particularistic, and humanitarian aid to outsiders, but not universal human rights. This scholarship makes it difficult to imagine a case like Anderson’s, which is set in an era of empire and the rise of the nation-state, and features powerful, successful claims on behalf of a persecuted foreigner whose race and place of birth set him apart from those who would come to his aid. According to this line of scholarship, civil rights are rooted in the age of revolutions, but human rights emerge as the product of international conventions since World War II. There were, of course, antecedents to this more recent provenance; scholars point to the Judeo-Christian tradition as well as the ethics of Islamic law and Confucianism.9 To these cosmologies, one adds the language of natural rights that emerged in the eighteenthcentury Enlightenment, one that drew upon the universalism of religious injunctions and the broader application of language of privilege that had formerly been accorded more narrowly to certain subjects of a monarch’s realm.10 Combined with a burgeoning print culture and political revolution, the formerly limited purview of rights became a “cascading logic” of human rights by the end of the eighteenth century, as historian Lynn Hunt explains.11 Whether one focuses on the Enlightenment or the period after World War II, however, the nineteenth century seems retrograde. Nationalism and imperialism, both hallmarks of this period, emphasize citizenship and illiberal rule, respectively, rather than the liberal universalism that undergirds modern human rights movements.12 Contrary to expectations, then, officials and advocates in Anderson’s case routinely alternated between languages of universalism and human rights on the one hand, and the particular rights valid on British soil and traditionally granted to subjects of the crown on the other. Britons’ desire to protect Anderson expressed a combination of universal moral injunctions and a particularly British ability to intervene on his behalf. Anderson was, at some moments, seen as a British subject whose personal sovereignty his sovereign government was



bound to uphold. At other moments, he was the quintessential persecuted foreigner, entitled to safe harbor and liberty on British soil because his own country would not protect him. During the Anderson controversy, activists unashamedly blended together these claims – claims that scholars today tend to hold distinct. One might attribute this mixing of arguments to the novelty of modern rights claims during 1860s. There is, after all, something of a hybrid approach to argumentation at work here; those arguing on Anderson’s behalf did not limit themselves to a single approach since they themselves did not know which appeals would be most effective. This makes sense in a period in which there was no codified process for determining asylum cases in circumstances like Anderson’s. Officials and activists alike thus hoped to use Anderson’s case as a means of establishing a firm legal precedent for safeguarding fugitive slaves who sought asylum on British soil. In this respect, activists sought legal precedent as a means of institutionalizing what was already a robust British interest in the fate of foreign refugees. As I have argued elsewhere, the project of supporting foreign refugees was, for the British, an international projection of their liberal aspirations and burgeoning national and imperial identity. Calls for assistance for refugees extended from the radical left to the heights of the establishment. Failing to protect refugees was shameful and could be mobilized as a political weapon by the middle of the nineteenth century. Refugee slaves were very much part of this proud campaign to safeguard persecuted foreigners from their oppressors. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act, was wildly popular in Britain as well as in America. Famous fugitive slaves and European revolutionary refugees toured Britain on speaking tours, their audiences becoming all the more likely to see the two sets of foreigners in the same light. Stowe herself had made the connection within her novel when she compared her fictional fugitive slave, George Harris, with Hungarian noblemen who similarly were forced to take up arms in their quest for liberty.13 So entrenched was this public commitment to refugees, so impossible did it seem for Britons to renege on their moral responsibilities, that commentators by the middle of the nineteenth century assumed refuge was in fact a broad right and one whose defense was intimately tied to Britons’ perceptions of themselves as the liberal superpower on the world stage. Seen in this light, Anderson’s champions would have thought of their wide-ranging arguments not as a new departure in the area of human rights, but as a restatement of a well-established British moral commitment to these freedom fighters. Activists had every reason to believe that they might be successful in attaining positive legal protections for foreign refugees. They could draw upon more than 50 years of national relief efforts foregrounding the needs of foreign refugees, dating to the French Revolution of the 1790s. Furthermore, by the 1810s, humanitarians had won the abolition of the international slave trade and the policing of the Atlantic by a special Royal Navy squadron.14 A few words of caution seem necessary here. Commitment to a human right to liberty and, in turn, to refugees, did not assume human equality. Nineteenth-century activists – even the most ardent of Anderson’s supporters – were not free from the racial prejudices of their age. John Anderson himself would fall victim to racial anxieties; his most ardent benefactors assumed he would find it difficult to flourish in Canada or in Britain following his ordeal. They sent him to resettle in Liberia. Anderson’s treatment fit a pattern; race, religion, and social class tended to shape the nature of long-term refuge under the British aegis. There is a tendency, though, among students and scholars alike to dismiss 23


this imperial age wholesale and to see, in cases like Anderson’s, a story of international posturing and diplomatic power-play rather than genuine humanitarianism or human rights advocacy. The hallmark of the genuinely universal is that it is free from politics and racism, so the argument goes.15 I understand the inclination and the concern for purity of motives. Yet, dismissing the more overtly politicized and racialized activism of the past risks assuming that “we moderns” have overcome the seductiveness of imperialism, of nationalism, and of race that one sees so readily in the past, Anderson’s case included.16 One risks, too, missing the power of identity politics that undergirded efforts to safeguard persecuted foreigners. Refusing to protect Anderson portended deep international shame, more than just a blemish on the role Britons were so proud of as moral leaders at a time when most of the European Continent had been engulfed in revolution and American still held onto their “peculiar institution.” Shame, pride, and a sense of exceptionalism could save lives – John Anderson’s included.

Anderson’s story: melodrama, empathy, and universal rights By the time that Harper Twelvetrees, member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and of the John Anderson Committee, published his Story of the Life of John Anderson in 1863, Anderson was himself a free man living in Liberia. This account of John Anderson’s case, the most sustained one we have, congratulates activists for their successful efforts on Anderson’s behalf. The book is dedicated to the hard work of George Thompson, recently a member of Parliament and an advocate for the “cause of freedom throughout the world.”17 The author deems the story useful, furnishing a primer on American slavery and cautioning defenders of freedom to remain vigilant. By Twelvetrees’ publication date, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had made it unlikely that the exact case would be repeated. Yet the Confederacy was still fighting hard for slavery and Anderson’s predicament was also meant to stand in for the situation of slaves in “the empire of Brazil, and in the islands of the Gulf of Mexico,” as Twelvetrees explained in the book’s preface. Mirroring the tenor of the press reports published in the middle of Anderson’s extradition hearings – indeed, Twelvetrees includes key passages from the press and from official correspondence in its pages – The Story of the Life of John Anderson captures well both Anderson’s harrowing story and its nearly unhappy outcome. Following a chapter on Missouri’s recent history and the struggle over the status of slavery that ended in the Missouri Compromise, Twelvetrees embarked on an account of Anderson’s childhood. His description harkened back to the preface, in which the author had not minced words over the impact of the slave system on enslaved families. The law, he highlighted, ignored the “natural rights, duties, or affections” of parents. It made the bond between mother and child significant only in determining legal ownership of the child by the mother’s master.18 Anderson’s situation was no different. His father escaped slavery when Anderson was still a baby, driven by a desire for freedom that Twelvetrees judged reasonable given the havoc slavery wreaked on Africans’ families.19 At 7 years old, Anderson was “left an orphan,” when his mother was sold to a trader who took her to market in New Orleans.20 In some respects, Anderson was, in fact, fortunate in his early life despite having been “deprived of his parents” so young; he was, from age 7, in the charge of a “mistress of a kind disposition, who supplied, in a great degree, the place of the parents.”21 Years later Anderson would recall this Mrs. Burton “in terms of gratitude and affection,” and 24


a childhood that, as Twelvetrees surmises “did not pass unhappily,” often engaged in sport as well as in the labor of the farm.22 An “expert in the all the duties of the farm,” Anderson extended his ambit as he grew into a man by joining the Freewill Baptist Church and attending all of their meetings. Whether he met his future wife Maria Tomlin through the Freewill Baptists is unclear in Twelvetrees’ account. The two remained close to the religious center Anderson had found, married by a minister of color and “pledging to live together as husband and wife and promising to be faithful to each other.”23 Maria, a recent widow at the time of their marriage, further requested that Anderson “act the part of father” to her older children.24 They had a child of their own and, initially, lived only several miles apart with their respective masters’ families. As the reader is meant to surmise by this point, their promises and their early happiness would be impossible to maintain within the slave system. Sure enough, Anderson was soon sold to a master 30 miles distant. Not permitted to visit his wife and young son, he was “told to abandon and forget them, and take a new wife, or mistress, from amongst the slaves of his present owner.” Twelvetrees made clear that Anderson understood well that his new master wanted the property that might issue from such a relationship.25 Unwilling to break his oaths to his family and surrender to his new master’s will, Anderson fled in September 1853. He escaped first to his father-in-law’s house and then to bid farewell to his family. A freeman himself, his father-in-law encouraged Anderson to run, and his wife had at marriage encouraged Anderson to seek his freedom and then his children’s as well. Anderson met trouble almost immediately. While Anderson was still in Missouri, a man named Seneca Diggs saw Anderson traveling on his own. Suspecting a runaway, Diggs gave chase, exhorting three of his slaves to assist. Tired and cornered, Anderson struck a blow at Diggs and retired from the spot; but hearing him repeat his order that the slaves should take him dead or alive, and fearing that he had not inflicted sufficient injury to prevent pursuit, he returned and again struck Diggs, and effectually disarmed him.26 Twelvetrees’ point was that Anderson fought in self-defense, had no intention of killing his attacker, and indeed had no knowledge that his attacker would die of these wounds several days later. After several more narrow escapes, Anderson finally crossed the Missouri River with a dollar and a half to his name. Anderson ran through Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan en route to Canada. Aided by a “good-hearted English settler” among other abolitionists, Anderson found himself be “beneath the British flag” about a month later. By the time Anderson arrived in the fall of 1853, Canada, then a British colony, had been a promised land for American slaves for three-quarters of a century. Black Loyalists, promised their freedom in exchange for aid during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, escaped north after the close of each conflict, resettling there or in the British West Indies.27 Enslaved persons also sought refuge on British soil. Those numbers increased after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, making it a crime for Americans in free states to harbor those who attempted to escape. Someone like Anderson, then, could well have had trouble in finding refuge in Indiana, Illinois, or Michigan, free states along his escape route. Slave catchers like Diggs, emboldened by the 1850 law, pursued fugitives 25


through the north, obtaining aid from officials, private individuals, and others whom they could bribe, as Diggs had the group of slave men who pursued Anderson in Missouri. Though Canada beckoned like “an arc of freedom” for American slaves, the British colony was far from a paradise. As in the American North, blacks encountered deeply engrained racial prejudices and a harsh climate that contrasted sharply with that of the American South. With financial assistance from abolitionists in the United States, Canada, and Britain, refugee slaves established separate village settlements and integrated into the economic lives of the larger cities. Free blacks traveled from the northern states to set up churches and schools. While life was not easy, the strength of black institutions provided critical support and solace for the growing community of refugees.28 Anderson seems to have fitted readily into this tableau, finding friendship and work enough to support him comfortably, first helping to lay the Windsor to Chatham railway and then, later, becoming a wood chopper and a mason. Eventually he saved enough of his wages to become a homeowner. Anderson’s life in Canada was to be disrupted more by slave catchers than by any want of entrepreneurial spirit of his own. Indeed, black settlements in Canada had been long harassed by American bounty hunters whose rare successes in kidnapping fugitive slaves inspired terror within the community.29 Well aware of this threat, abolitionists had lobbied the foreign office during the Webster–Ashburton Treaty negotiations, fearful that the extradition article would leave slaves’ status in jeopardy and embolden slave catchers to cross the border.30 Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen sought to mollify their concerns even though the government was aware of the diplomatic tightrope they walked by protecting American fugitives. Early cases had, in fact, been decided in the slaves’ favor, one in 1829 denying the US request for the return of fugitives who had been traveling with their master. The Canadian executive council had, however, ruled in terms that could haunt them in the later extradition treaty; slaves were not to be returned unless they had committed a crime recognized by local law.31 From the start, Anderson caught wind of rumors that slave catchers were targeting him, for instance by trying to lure him to Michigan. Seeking advice from a lawyer, Anderson moved and assumed different aliases, finding new employment and gaining new skills in each location until he settled more permanently in Caledonia. It was there that his past caught up with him. A supposed friend betrayed his true identity to a justice of the peace who, in turn, informed Diggs’ family. In rapid order, officials in Missouri solicited the assistance of a detective in Michigan who was also a professional slave catcher, a point Twelvetrees carefully notes in order to highlight the impossibility of distinguishing between the formal justice system and the slave system in the United States.32 On the basis of information from the United States about Anderson’s seemingly dubious past, Canadian officials arrested him twice between April and September 1860 and released him twice, thanks to legal assistance he received. In October 1860, however, Anderson’s case took a turn for the worse as the US government intervened, requesting his extradition on murder charges. Much to British officials’ chagrin, the US secretary of state General Cass failed to mention that Anderson, a “man of color,” had been a slave in Missouri.33 It is possible that, had Anderson’s legal status been known, his petition to be released would have been accepted unanimously and his extradition would have met a curt denial. This is not certain, however, given the initial decision of the Toronto court, which was made after his history was better known.



For officials and activists, Anderson’s case was less a surprise than a long-anticipated opportunity to test British commitment to the cause of freedom as a broad right. Upon learning of Anderson’s arrest, John Scoble of the Toronto branch of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society set to action immediately trying to secure his release. Lawyer and antislavery sympathizer Samuel Freeman lobbied the Canadian government and then took up Anderson’s cause in the extradition hearing before the court. The language of Freeman’s initial petition on Anderson’s behalf was muted, emphasizing primarily the sovereignty of British soil in the face of American importunity rather than the broader question of liberty.34 But the significance of the extradition hearing for blacks in Canada was immediately apparent, a point that antislavery activists continued to hammer home. The announcement of the court’s ruling itself garnered a large audience, including many men and women of color and some fugitive slaves. Evidently, court officials feared that violence would break out if Anderson were not freed; Twelvetrees mentions that authorities took weapons at the door.35 If Anderson’s extradition hearing was a test for a universal human right to liberty, the men issuing the decision failed. Two of the three judges of the Queen’s Bench in Toronto – Chief Justice Robinson and Justice Burns – dismissed Anderson’s petition for release. Only Justice McLean found in Anderson’s behalf. McLean’s dissent was scathing, finding in the request for extradition, first, a willful blindness to the fact that Anderson’s actions had defended his personal liberty in a moment of extreme danger; second, a perversion of the rights espoused in the American Declaration of Independence; and, finally, a violation of British law. McLean reiterated Anderson’s history and the naturalness of fighting for one’s freedom, especially in the context of slavery. He pointed out that America’s own Declaration of Independence “proclaimed to the world that all men are born equal and possessed of certain inalienable rights, amongst which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Only the strength of the white population in the United States had “deprived [slaves] of all human rights.”36 McLean was unwilling to bend British law to the perverse mockery of justice that could “convert into chattels a very large number of the human race.” Rather, as McLean implied and others asserted immediately on Anderson’s behalf, upstanding Britons would have to establish instead the “inviolability of British asylum – the proudest institution of the British Empire,” as Twelvetrees put it in his rendition of the judges’ dissent.37 Having hoped for a verdict more in line with McLean’s opinion, public commentators in Canada and in Britain were aghast at the majority’s decision. In Toronto, the Globe set out to defend Anderson with far more vigor than Freeman had before the court, emphasizing the evils of slavery and painting the decision of the court as a moral failing by then governor general Sir John MacDonald and his administration of Upper Canada.38 Members of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society organized a protest meeting presided over by John Scoble. His address to the crowds emphasized that the decision was a threat to liberty as well as to British officials’ commitments to protecting slaves despite the Webster–Ashburton Treaty. To repudiate these promises was thus a much a violation of the government’s commitments as it was a violation of Anderson’s natural rights.39 In Britain, newspapers followed suit, reprinting Justice McLean’s dissenting opinion and carrying Anderson’s story to a wide audience.40 Few believed it possible that Anderson would be extradited to the United States; one article, published with minor variations in newspapers across the United 27


Kingdom, called even the hint that the British would surrender Anderson “a gross libel on the guardians of our national liberties.”41 John Plummer, a journalist then living in Kettering in the English Midlands, wrote a stirring poem about Anderson that was printed in the Manchester Guardian and reprinted as far distant as Jersey in the British Channel Islands: Give him up? Never! While Englishmen wear In their hearts the sign of the free. Give him up? Never! No Briton will dare A traitor to liberty be. Have we then liv’d in the land of our sires, Its pride and its glory to stain: To sit and dose by bright ruddy fires, Forgetting the slave and his chain? Are we as the serfs, who fain would forget The mem’ries that round them ee’r throng? No! England shall see her children can yet Be first in the battle’gainst wrong … 42

Personal sovereignty, national sovereignty, and intra-imperial politics Anderson’s supporters on both sides of the Atlantic had reason to believe that the language of national pride alongside universal rights and compassion for the persecuted would be powerful in making their case. International anti-slave-trade treaties had championed the right to liberty since the late 1810s, requiring both the liberation of illegallytrafficked slaves and their protection – their refuge – under the aegis of the signing powers. By statute, then, the British were responsible for protecting liberated Africans. While there was no similar statute regulating the treatment of slaves who fled slavery, as opposed to the illegal slave trade, courts more often than not maintained a “freedom principle” for those who fled across a border. The Creole case offered something of a case in point in recent memory, as did that of the Amistad.43 In the Amistad case, even the slaveholding United States recognized the power of the turn to human rights. In his defense of the Africans on trial, John Quincy Adams appealed to “human rights” three times, a phrase echoed by other members of the Africans’ counsel as well.44 Despite these powerful precedents, however, Anderson was dangerously close to being extradited to face murder changes per Secretary Cass’ request. The British might commit themselves to the cause of liberty, but even in the nineteenth century, taking such a stand against the United States was not a step to take lightly. Saving John Anderson would entail a costly assertion of power in the service of humanitarianism and human rights, albeit one that commentators like journalist and poet John Plummer viewed as synonymous with Britishness itself. Even in the broader history of British abolitionism, there were indications that a case like that of John Anderson’s would not necessarily be decided in the slave’s favor. From the start, Black Loyalists at the time of the Revolution and the War of 1812 were political tools in the struggle between America and Great Britain. While international tensions 28


deescalated later in the nineteenth century, border disputes remained contentious for decades. British-Canadian officials disliked the incursions of American slave catchers on Canadian soil. Nevertheless, Anderson’s case, like those of other fugitive slaves in times of peace between America and the British Empire, threatened to strain the newly friendly relations. In a sense, the Webster–Ashburton Treaty offered a means for Canadian justices to thread the needle, appeasing their neighbors to the south, while avoiding the larger moral question of slavery itself. Pointing to Anderson’s crime and playing down his identity, the prosecution had emphasized that murder was murder and an extraditable crime. Justice Burns’ decision emphasized the letter of the law as well. He recognized that a British audience would find the return of a fugitive slave despicable. However, officials – he found – must respect the laws of other nations.45 Anderson’s advocates, by contrast, refused to accept that this was any ordinary murder or that the British were required to recognize the laws of another nation on their own territory. Neither members of Parliament nor commentators in the British press could believe that Anderson’s killing of Diggs constituted a felonious murder. To them, it was clearly an act of self-defense in protection of his liberty. The prime minister himself underscored that, had Anderson been a freeman, committing the murder of Diggs would have been an extraditable offence. Since Anderson was a slave, however, Palmerston could not support his return to the United States.46 The technical question of murder thus became a proxy for the larger moral question of complicity in American slavery. More immediately, the British commentators seized on the ready comparison between refugee slaves and European revolutionaries, both groups that had sought protection on British soil from persecution in their homelands. British asylum was a matter of national identity and international pride. The point was made explicitly in the Times of London on 5 January 1861. Drawing on the language of both Stowe and of accounts of British support for European revolutionaries, the writer exclaimed: That we, who look with such scorn upon the little State of Saxony for delivering up a Hungarian nobleman who had trusted to her hospitality, should, in our strength and our grandeur, deliver up a wretched slave who had run for our soil as to the ark of freedom, may be argued as logical necessity in a court of law, but is an obvious impossibility as a fact.47 The Times further underscored the shame of violating asylum, recognizing the need to bolster what was then (as now) only a quasi-right to refuge, nowhere guaranteed in law. The Times article appeared in newspapers across the United Kingdom in the following days and the media continued to draw parallels between Anderson and the plight of refugee European revolutionaries.48 News of Anderson’s case that highlighted the oppressiveness of American slavery routinely appeared in print next to accounts of Continental despotism, as it did in the journal Once a Week, for example, which railed against French emperor Louis Napoleon’s attempts to stymie the popular cause of Italian nationalism.49 The timing of the article – and of the case itself – could not have been more appropriate. South Carolina had seceded from the Union on 20 December 1860. The question of slavery was fast drawing the United States to a moment of crisis. British newspaper audiences were well aware of these developments early in 1861. In this context, Anderson’s supporters hoped, with reason, that officials would intercede on his behalf. The British public’s humanitarian advocacy of foreign refugees had 29


elicited government support and parliamentary action from the start. The secretary of state for foreign affairs and the Colonial Office had promised abolitionists in 1842 that they would never surrender a fugitive slave. There were more recent examples, as well. Just three years prior to Anderson’s case, the British had refused extradition for Dr. Simon Bernard, a Frenchman living in Birmingham who was reported to have aided in Felice Orsini’s attempted assassination of French emperor Louis Napoleon. Activists successfully advocated his protection in a state trial in London. Barrister and Member of Parliament Edwin James framed his defense of Bernard as Britons’ commitment to a broad right to asylum for foreign refugees and the moral impossibility of surrendering them to face persecution overseas.50 In the winter of 1861, this same Edwin James argued Anderson’s case before the queen’s lawyers in London, as I will discuss below. If Bernard had been spared extradition for the far more odious offence of conspiring against the life of neighboring ruler, Anderson’s safety ought, one would think, to have been confirmed without question. Indeed, the radical weekly journal the National Reformer made the parallel explicit by comparing Anderson with Orsini. Whereas the British might begrudgingly admit that the likes of an Orsini could receive refuge in Britain,51 the editors of the National Reformer emphasized that by comparison Anderson was blameless for the blood on his hands. This line of defense of Anderson threatened to antagonize the United States, an otherwise friendly nation. Yet there was a subtle though critical subtext in the argument that offered something of a cushion for officials in making their decision. Commentators described Anderson as an American fugitive slave, of course, but also labeled him a Canadian resident or, more frequently, a British subject. Twelvetrees announced in his prefatory remarks on the case as a whole the degree to which the extradition request was a “foul wrong attempted to be perpetuated on a subject of the British Crown.”52 The point that Anderson was a British subject by virtue of his residence in Canada featured in the legal proceedings as well. Lawyers and judges considered whether they could intervene on behalf of a subject in Canada, not whether Anderson was entitled to that status. Louis Chamerovzow, secretary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, used this construction in his affidavit to the Queen’s Bench in London on Anderson’s behalf.53 In the course of the deliberations, Edwin James adopted it and Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, citing William Blackstone, again comfortably assumed that Anderson was indeed a subject of the Crown.54 To call Anderson a British subject was a claim that supporters routinely made to improve his standing before judges who might balk at taking an officially hostile stance toward American slavery. Such a broad application of subject status belies the supposed temper of the era. It offers a stark contrast to the simultaneous emphases on citizenship, as set out, for example, in the French Constitutions. Scholars assume that the nineteenth century was a period in which concern for state sovereignty and civic rights predominated. Such nationally specific phenomena seem to preclude the possibility of rights more broadly construed. However, Anderson’s situation demonstrates both a fluidity of subject status in the British context and legal authorities’ willingness to draw upon the language of subjecthood on behalf of a foreign slave. It was not a given that they would do so, or even that they needed to do so in this era. Subject status was an important vehicle for holding and transmitting property but was not a prerequisite for the protection of personal liberties by British officials or courts.55 In this way, the power of universal liberty from slavery was – at least theoretically – about being on British soil, not about being British. It is rare in the archives to find refugees seeking official British subject status. Indeed, even after a longer residence, 30


refugees’ foreignness mattered rhetorically. Their rescue from persecution – something presumptively impossible within liberal Britain – was the critical element. Second, it is interesting that British advocates used the language of subject status in Anderson’s case so readily, because it was not a given that he would have received it if he had formally applied. Imperial subjecthood was a broad and fluid category in this period. Following the Calvin case of 1608, subject status belonged to those born within the territory of the sovereign. While still influential in the nineteenth century, the alignment of subject status with place of birth became strained during the imperial expansion of the later eighteenth century.56 The growth of empire drew in new populations who had not been affiliated with British territory at birth; the loss of the American colonies had the same impact, only in reverse. In an era of great flux, then, allegiance became as important as birth as a mode of acquiring imperial subject status.57 For American fugitive slaves, assertions of loyalty were critical in gaining freedom in British hands. Black Loyalists joined the British army in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 as a means of gaining their freedom.58 In times of relative peace, the need to expand colonial populations similarly made officials more receptive to oaths of allegiance as an avenue of naturalization as British subjects.59 However, officials did not necessarily accept just any assertion of loyalty. As Bradley Miller has shown, American fugitive slaves petitioned the Canadian government in the 1830s claiming their allegiance to the crown as a means of gaining protection against extradition, but the effort did not work.60 So far as I have found, Anderson took no oath of allegiance. Why, then, were claims about Anderson’s subject status so routinely made on his behalf? Future researchers should undertake a more systemic examination of the fluidity of subject status across the imperial world at this height of empire.61 In Anderson’s case, I would suggest that claims to subject status were made because they were rhetorically powerful, establishing universal rights principles more firmly by making a claim upon the host state. By underscoring Anderson’s Britishness, his supporters implied that it was even more necessary for officials to issue a writ of habeas corpus, a demand that he be brought to London to appeal his case before the Court of the Queen’s Bench. In Britain, they assumed, it would be easier for the court to reverse the decision of the Canadian judges and free Anderson. As a British subject, Anderson’s legal claims would seem to transcend any competing claims that Canadian officials might make on their own. However, between the signing of the Webster– Ashburton Treaty and 1860 the relationship between Britain and Canada had changed. Having worked assiduously for greater institutional independence, Canada was now on the path toward a home rule that would be fully in place by 1867. Home rule did not mean complete independence; Britain retained (until 1931) control over foreign affairs. However, by the 1860s the courts were meant to be independent. Officials were, however, not certain what that independence meant for appellate decisions in Canadian court cases. Could they be remanded to Britain by writ of habeas corpus? Since extradition was a matter of foreign policy, did the decision-making power lie in London anyway? The case threatened to pit mother country and colony against one another during a time of heightened sensitivity about sovereignty. Did the Queen’s Bench then have a right to intervene in the matter? Even if it did, would intervention be politically wise? In this respect, calling Anderson a British subject became an argument in favor of intervention. But the argument would not be won so easily. The judges of the Queen’s Bench in London assessed these demands for British protection of Anderson. Drawing upon precedents from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Justices determined that the Queen’s Bench had a legal right to intercede, 31


though the political desirability of doing so gave them pause.62 Lord Chief Justice Cockburn’s decision to issue the writ despite these reservations maintained the older precedents in this case. The decision elicited an immediate reaction on both sides of the Atlantic, making onlookers, even some of Anderson’s supporters, anxious over the assertion of imperial authority. In Britain, the legal community was not unified behind Cockburn’s decision, questioning Whitehall’s jurisdiction while fretting that the Queen’s Bench was setting the stage for a second War for Independence in the Americas.63 Though legal experts in Canada were less hyperbolic, they admitted that the writ likely gave birth “to a feeling of resistance, which will not in all probability slumber till the assumed jurisdiction of the English court is tested and defeated on national grounds.”64 After issuing the writ, officials in London never executed it. On 1 February 1861, the Canadian Court of Common Pleas, under Chief Justice Draper, issued its own writ of habeas corpus and, within a week, commenced hearings under its jurisdiction. On 16 February the court freed John Anderson. We will never know whether the decision was in response to public outrage over the initial court decision, the pending writ of habeas corpus, or a combination thereof. Draper’s ruling was not based in a claim about asylum, slavery, humanitarian intervention, or human rights; it hinged instead on a technicality. The warrant for his arrest had stated that Anderson was accused of “felonious homicide,” not murder. Only crimes of murder fell under the auspices of the extradition treaty.65 Greatly relieved on all accounts, Anderson’s supporters swiftly brought the freed man to Britain lest the United States attempt extradition once more. There, he, like other highprofile American fugitive slaves, toured the UK, retelling his tale of persecution, escape, and rescue from re-enslavement to rapt audiences before moving to Liberia a year later.

Conclusion: making universal rights stick Those looking for the origin of human rights history in big moral victories would be surprised, even upset, by the outcome in the Anderson case. The final decision in the case pointedly eschewed broad moral claims, and the outbreak of the Civil War within months meant that the same question would never again be posed to British and Canadian authorities over an American fugitive slave. In this respect, the case fits a pattern in imperial jurisprudence, which had long been closely attentive to local context and geopolitical exigencies.66 Yet a case like Anderson’s also demonstrated the power of public pressure and the normative assumptions held by members of the establishment. Officials were as unwilling to see a refugee extradited as were members of the public in Canada and in the United Kingdom. Over the next 40 years, British activists succeeded in maintaining – as they had for John Anderson – the primacy of the right to life and liberty for bona fide refugees regardless of race, politics, or creed. Protection for political offenders was written into Briton’s new extradition treaties from 1870 and even into the restrictive Aliens Act of 1905, which aimed to reduce the number of destitute migrants to Britain but contained an exemption for those who were being persecuted in “hot blood.”67 Emphasis on supporting only bona fide refugees had the effect of subjecting individuals to new and sometimes stricter tests, especially in times of heightened public or political fear. As in the Anderson case, public pressure remains critical to maintaining protections for subjects, citizens, and foreigners alike. 32


In this respect, the Anderson case should warn us against placing too much emphasis on a singular “hand-off” between an era of humanitarianism to one of modern human rights. Progress then, as progress now, was uneven, entailing several steps backward for every movement forward. As Mairi MacDonald writes in her essay on atrocities in the Congo in this volume, to understand human rights better we must view it as a “a practice of persuasion,” an effort that has a far longer history than the more recent one of a human rights regime and that better emphasizes the instability of those rights both then and now.68 The relationship between activist, humanitarian movements and the pursuit and maintenance of rights is thus a dynamic one, a point future researchers would do well to incorporate into studies of cases ranging from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the twenty-first.69 Persuasion remains to this day critical to asylum seekers’ ability to find a safe haven. Still only guaranteed the right to an “asylum-seeking process,” by reigning international convention, refugees’ protection, as in the case of John Anderson more than 150 years ago, depends on eliciting the sympathy of the would-be hosts.

Notes 1 Harper Twelvetrees, The Story of the Life of John Anderson, London: William Tweedie, 1863, 26; Great Britain, House of Commons, Parliamentary Papers (hereafter Parliamentary Papers), (1861 [2813]), “Correspondence Respecting the Case of Fugitive Slave, Anderson,” Correspondence Between Irvine and Russell, 8 October 1860, no. 1 and enclosure 1, p. 1; Lord Lyons to Lord John Russell, 8 April 1861, no. 20, p. 46. It would be another three months before Anderson was referred to as a “fugitive slave” in a letter from Downing Street dated 9 January 1861. See p. 2. 2 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 35. 3 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 40. 4 See Article 10 of the treaty. The text of the treaty is online. Available at (accessed 18 December 2018). 5 A right to refuge first appeared in British law in the 1870 Extradition Act, which exempted the political offender from the operation of the treaty. The treaty became the baseline model for international law in the decades that followed. Further British policies followed suit to grapple with the question of fugitive slaves in the Indian Ocean world (1876) and a further protection of foreigners escaping political or religious persecution (1905). See Caroline Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 147–235. 6 Samuel Moyn rejects the idea that campaigns prior to the 1940s were human rights campaigns, for example. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010. Michael Barnett, for example, describes human rights as vested in “legal discourses and frameworks” and the “long-term goal of eliminating the causes of suffering,” whereas humanitarianism focuses attention on “moral codes and sentiments” as well as the immediate need of “keeping people alive.” These are the very distinctions Barnett applies to two threads of humanitarianism. However, his history of humanitarianism distinguishes between an “emergency branch that focuses on symptoms, and an alchemical variety that adds the ambition of eliminating the root causes of suffering.” Michael Barnett, Empires of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 16 and 10. 7 See the essays by Mairi MacDonald and Meredith Terretta in this volume. See also Jenny S. Martinez, The Slave Trade and the Origins of International Human Rights Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, pp. 41–70 and 98–123; and Brian E. Vick, The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics after Napoleon, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 193–232. This new trend offers an important counterbalance to Moyn’s suggestion that antislavery and anticolonialism, for example, were not human rights issues. 8 This essay is an expanded version of the exploration of the Anderson case initially published as a portion of chapter 5 in Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace. Anderson’s case receives regular mention in histories of American fugitive slaves. It is the core of Patrick Brode’s well-researched 1989



9 10 11 12 13

14 15


17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

28 29

narrative of Anderson’s ordeal for the Osgoode Legal Society of Toronto, Canada. Patrick Brode, The Odyssey of John Anderson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. More recently, Bradley Miller has focused on it, in his chapter on refugees. Bradley Miller, Borderline Crime: Fugitive Criminals and the Challenge of the Border, 1819–1914, Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and University of Toronto Press, 2016, pp. 114–52. Legal historian Paul Halliday draws upon the case at the close of his examination of the jurisdiction of writs of habeas corpus in the early modern era. Paul Halliday, Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010, pp. 299–301. See, among others, Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, and Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights Visions Seen, 3rd ed., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. For subject status and the mixing of the language of rights and privileges, see Hannah Weiss Muller, Subjects and Sovereign: Bonds of Belonging in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, New York: W. W. Norton, 2008, pp. 176–214. Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, pp. 160–7; Moyn, Last Utopia, p. 32. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1900, pp. 281–2. See Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, pp. 71–97. For more on the culture of antislavery in the middle of the nineteenth century, see Richard Huzzey, Freedom Burning: Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012. Slave trade treaties contained clauses to provide refuge to those deemed illegally trafficked. Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, pp. 48, 56–7. This is the crux of a debate among scholars over the campaigns against the slave trade. Whereas Martinez, among others, have seen in them the first articulation of international human rights, others – notably Philip Alston – have dismissed this claim. Alston points to the conditions of liberated Africans as evidence that there could not have been a genuine belief in a right to human liberty. Philip Alston, “Does the Past Matter? On the Origin of Human Rights,” Harvard Law Review, 2013, vol. 126, no. 1, 2054–5. Liberated Africans’ conditions were abominable; more often than not they became indentured servants. But as scholars on theories of labor have noted, what is distinctly unfree to us seemed free in the early nineteenth century – crucially, contractual and distinct from the violence of the slave traffic. A generation later, activists, missionaries, and officials highlighted concerns about the nature of freedom in these cases. This should make us uncomfortable. As Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann noted in an essay on human rights historiography, if we do not look to the longer history we will not “be able to understand the latency of concepts, the trapdoors that rights claims based on equality as well as difference might entail.” Hoffmann, “Human Rights and History,” Past and Present, 2016, vol. 232, no. 1, 31. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, dedication page. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. viii. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. vii, 9. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 9. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 9. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 10. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 10. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 11. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. 11–12. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 16. Among other works on the Black Loyalists, see Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and their Global Quest for Liberty, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, and Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, New York: Vintage Books, 2011. Jason Silverman, Unwelcome Guests: Canada West’s Response to American Fugitive Slaves, 1800–1865, New York: Associated Faculty Press, 1985; Robin Winks, The Blacks in Canada, 2nd ed., Montreal and Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Winks, Blacks in Canada, p. 168.



30 Rhodes House Special Collections, Oxford, Archives of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, E 2/19 Memorials and Petitions, “On the Extradition Clause of the Treaty of Washington,” Memorial addressed to Aberdeen, 13 February 1843, f. 193. 31 Winks, Blacks in Canada, p. 168. 32 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 25. 33 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 26; Parliamentary Papers (1861 [2813]), Correspondence Between Irvine and Russell, 8 October 1860, no. 1 and enclosure 1; Correspondence Respecting the Case of Fugitive Slave, Anderson, 1; Lyons to Russell, 8 April 1861, no. 20, p. 46. 34 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. 29–30; Brode, Odyssey of John Anderson, p. 31. 35 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 36; Brode, Odyssey of John Anderson, p. 47. 36 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 40. 37 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson p. 41. 38 As Brode explains, the case emphasized the split between liberal-reformists – here, George Brown of the Globe – and MacDonald’s more conservative branch of the liberal party. Brode, Odyssey of John Anderson, pp. 32–5. 39 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. 45–7. 40 For example, an article in London’s Morning Chronicle (4 January 1861, 3) appeared in provincial newspapers across the United Kingdom. The same coverage, including extended discussion of McLean’s dissent thus appeared, for example, in Dublin’s Evening Freeman (4 January 1861, 3), London’s The Morning Advertiser (4 January 1861, 6), and the Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette (5 January 1861, 4). 41 “Fugitive Slaves in Canada: Are They to be Given Up?” Bradford Observer, 10 January 1861, 6. The same comment about “gross libel” appeared in seven papers in early January 1861. 42 John Plummer, “John Anderson, The Fugitive Slave.” Reprinted in Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph, 19 January 1861, 4; Ken Stewart, “Plummer, John (1831–1914),” Australian Dictionary of National Biography, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1988. Online. Available athttp:// (accessed 18 December 2018). 43 The Amistad was a Spanish ship bringing newly purchased slaves from Sierra Leone to Cuba in 1839 when the Africans successfully took control of the ship. Recaptured by an American vessel, the Africans were brought to the United States where they stood trial for extradition. The Supreme Court decided in their favor in 1841. That same year, American slaves on board the Creole gained control of the ship, steering it to port in the British Bahamas. There, they claimed their freedom. Charged with piracy, they won in court on the grounds that they had fought only for their liberty. Local officials agreed. In Anderson’s case, his lawyer had used the Creole unsuccessfully in his defense of Anderson at the extradition hearing. Brode, Odyssey of John Anderson, pp. 43, 93. My hunch is that this precedent would not have been helpful to Anderson, given the violence of the earlier case. Indeed, as I return to below, abolitionists curried favor for Anderson by contrasting him favorably with violent political refugees like Felice Orsini. 44 Christopher McCrudden, “Human Rights Histories,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 2015, vol. 35, no. 1, 179 n. 113. 45 Parliamentary Papers, 1861, vol. 64, p. 33, Correspondence Respecting the Case of the Fugitive Slave, Anderson. 46 “Last Week,” Once a Week, [London] 1861, vol. 4, 26 January 1861, 138–40. 47 Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 67, citing the Times, 5 January 1861. 48 For example, see reprint of Times article “Fugitive Slaves in Canada: Are They to Be Given Up?” Bradford Observer, 10 January 1861, 6. 49 “Last Week,” 139; see also: “London, Thursday, 2 January 1861,” Morning Post, 3 January 1861, 4. 50 The Speech of Edwin James, Esq., One of Her Majesty’s Counsel, in Defense of Dr. Simon Bernard, Delivered at the Central Criminal Court, on Friday, the 16 of April, 1858, London: Effingham Wilson, 1858. 51 “Orsini and John Anderson the Fugitive Slave,” National Reformer, 2 February 1861. The question of whether to provide refuge or to extradite terrorists would become a live question by the end of the 1860s in the wake of the rise of Anarchism and violent Irish Fenianism. See Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, pp. 147–75.



52 53 54 55 56


58 59 60 61

62 63 64

65 66 67

68 69

Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. v–vi. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 56. Speeches and opinions as cited in Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, pp. 58, 63. Alexander Cockburn, Nationality: Or, the Law Relating to Subjects and Aliens, Considered with a View to Future Legislation, London: W. Ridgway, 1869, pp. 138 and 149. For the eighteenth century, see Muller, Subject and Sovereign, and, for a useful examination of the literature as a whole, Hannah Weiss Muller, “Subjecthood in the Atlantic World,” Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Online. Available at (accessed 18 December 2018). Caitlin Anderson, “Old Subjects, New Subjects, and Non-Subjects: Silences and Subjecthood,” in Jane Rendall, Nicholas Guyatt, and Richard Bessel (eds.) War, Empire, and Slavery, 1770–1830, New York: Palgrave, 2010, pp. 201–17; Christopher L. Brown, “From Slaves to Subjects: Envisioning an Empire Without Slavery, 1772–1834,” in Philip D. Morgan and Sean Hawkins (eds.) Black Experience and the Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 111–40. Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, New York: Knopf, 2011. Reiko Karatani, Defining British Citizenship: Empire, Commonwealth and Modern Britain, London: Frank Cass, 2003, pp. 55–6. Miller, Borderline Crime, p. 122. Nor, for example, did claims to subject status work consistently in the South Asian context. See Sudipta Sen, “Imperial Subjects on Trial: On the Legal Identity of Britons in Late Eighteenth-Century India,” Journal of British Studies, 2006, vol. 45, no. 3, 532–55. Studies of this nature have focused on the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. We do not yet have similar accounts of the later nineteenth century or of the twentieth century. Such work would be of critical importance in thinking about the nature of community, as well as of what I suspect remains a fairly fluid category of subjecthood and responsibility. In the twentieth century, this area of research is important regarding changing imperial relations during struggles for and on the eve of independence. The question of the courts’ jurisdiction on this matter, while given new life in the process of devolving colonial powers, had a long history with regards to semi-autonomous legal systems across the hybrid empire. See Halliday, Habeas Corpus. Thomas Tapping, “Art. III. The Case of Anderson, the Fugitive Slave. The Application for the Writ of habeas corpus and Judgment Considered,” Law Magazine and Law Review, 1861, no. 21, 60–3. “The Case of John Anderson, Fugitive Slave,” Upper Canada Law Journal, 1861, appended to Tapping, “Art. III,” 64. Indeed, the issue remained a tense one even after the Anderson case concluded. As late as the 1980s there still seems to have been simmering resentment. Brode calls the Toronto Globe’s enthusiasm for intervention in the case “reckless.” Brode, Odyssey of John Anderson, p. 48. “The Case of John Anderson, Fugitive Slave,” 64. Twelvetrees, Story of the Life of John Anderson, p. 77. Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford, Rage for Order: The British Empire and the Origins of International Law, 1800–1850, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016. Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, p. 228. There would be no stand-alone international laws about refugees in the nineteenth century. The securities provided for refugees appeared as caveats carved out within the later extradition treaties and, in the British context, in restrictive immigration acts and guiding governmental policy positions. Shaw, Britannia’s Embrace, pp. 205–35. Mairi MacDonald, “Reclaiming Congo Reform for the History of Human Rights,” p. 57, in this volume. Future researchers might productively continue to probe the language of refuge in former settler colonies like Canada. At the time of Anderson’s case, supporters drew upon a history of British refuge and imperial pride in advancing his case, as I have highlighted. Already rife with tension for a colony on the eve of home rule, such a rhetorical strategy presumably shifted in the decades thereafter. The story would presumably tell us much about developing universal rights campaigns as well as the changing visions of international community and post-imperial commonwealth identity formation.


3 INVESTIGATING AND A ME LI O R A T I NG AT R OC IT IES IN T H E N I NE T E E N TH C EN T U R Y International commissions of inquiry in the Balkans (1876–80) Benjamin E. Brockman-Hawe

In recent decades, international institutions authorized to assign responsibility for serious and widespread human rights violations have become ubiquitous. Prosecutions for acts of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity before international or internationalized criminal courts are routine; the dockets of regional human rights courts have exploded with filings related to large-scale rights violations; and dozens of international fact-finding commissions have been established under the auspices of the United Nations (or one of its organs), regional organizations, and independent groups of states with the ultimate goal of producing an authoritative statement explaining “what happened” and identifying what will, should, or can be done to rectify the harm. These institutions have become hallmarks of the contemporary legal order and influential reconstructive forces in societies riven by violence. Despite their prominence as a feature of the contemporary human rights landscape, and the existence of a rich scholarly literature that debates their raison d’être and practices, to date our understanding of the historical pedigree of international human rights factfinding remains slight. This is to be lamented, as nineteenth-century bodies matching this description – typically identified at the time as a “European Commission” or “International Commission” – are extremely interesting objects of study. International Commissions were natural focal points for international energies, as Commissions fostered negotiations and debate between representatives of numerous countries about the purpose, scope, and consequences of their investigative enterprise. But their international bona fides went beyond simply counting among their membership agents drawn from around Europe. Commissions sometimes transcended the nation-states that created them, as when they placed the ultimate responsibility for a humanitarian crisis on one of their establishing states or expressed international human rights values. On another front, in the absence of clearly codified international human rights law, these institutions and their work product occupied a central place in the public consciousness, drawing international attention to suffering and serving as visible symbols of a transnational commitment to its remediation. Thus, in their genesis, functioning, and perception, Commissions served as



a point of emergence and convergence for the transnational human rights community, as well as serving as instruments of propagation that expanded the influence of that community and the values it espoused. The story of these Commissions also illustrates the limitations and weaknesses of nineteenth-century human rights fact-finding. As will be seen in this essay, many of the same problems that plague human rights inquiry today existed then. Commissions predictably aroused opposition from those whom the Commissions sought to make accountable, and this opposition was not always overcome, as the effort required was not always deemed to be worth making. Moreover, the considerations of “humanity” that animated the investigative work, for all their pretensions to urgent activity and universalism, were often selective, sometimes half-hearted, Janus-faced, or overridden by other political and social priorities. Nor did it escape notice that it was powerful Western states with their own record of human rights abuses that were often pushing for inquiry. The story of human rights fact-finding is as much a story of triumphs as it is one of failures, with the line between the two not always clear. For that reason, it is important to study both the Commissions that were formed and those that never made it past the drawing board. While a comprehensive or definitive history of these institutions would require full exploration of widely scattered archives and other secondary materials in at least six languages, my goal for this essay is more modest: to provide a brief survey of the situations in which international commissions were pursued between 1876 and 1880. This was a period of unusually intense activity in the field of international human rights fact-finding due to the “Great Eastern Crisis” in the Ottoman Balkans and the RussoTurkish War (1877–8). These conflicts were inherently pan-European dramas, as they played out against the background of the decades-long “Eastern Question” – the perception of the terminal decline of the Ottoman Empire and the diplomatic and strategic dilemmas this posed for all of Europe’s Great Powers: Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia. During this five-year period, several acts of (to use the common parlance of the era) “massacre,” “barbarity,” “outrage,” and “atrocity” captured European imagination. This essay briefly examines the events that triggered official efforts to make known by international investigation the status of victims and causes of their oppression; details the remit and composition of each investigative commission; traces some of the legal and political maneuvers of the individual commissioners and the states they represented as they completed their work; and explores the results of their efforts.

Proposed international commissions in the early stages of the “Great Eastern Crisis” (1876) In the mid-1870s a series of Christian uprisings in Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria threatened the Ottoman Empire with complete collapse of its authority in the Balkans. The Great Powers were at first reluctant to intervene, but exaggerated newspaper accounts of mass slaughter of Christians particularly at Batak (in Bulgaria), where it was reported that between 10,000 and 15,000 innocent Christian men, women, and children had been killed by Turkish irregulars (bashi-bazouks), galvanized the public and eroded sympathy for the Ottoman cause across Europe.1 In Russia, substantial fundraising activities for the victims were undertaken and thousands of men departed for the Balkans to fight alongside Orthodox forces.2 In Great Britain, where the official policy since the Crimean War had 38


been to support the Porte (the Ottoman government) and curtail Russia’s regional ambitions, a new anti-Turk attitude swept the country as popular polemics like former prime minister Gladstone’s Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East laid responsibility for the “barest and blackest outrages upon record within the present century” at the feet of both the ruling Conservative party and the Turkish government.3 Britain’s Conservative government, fearful of the destabilizing consequences for the international balance of power in Europe of either an Ottoman victory or an Ottoman loss in the Balkans, appalled at the growing calls for the elimination of Turkish authority in the Balkans that might if heeded provoke a general European war, and mindful of the need to deny their political rivals ammunition by appearing callous in the face of so-called “Bulgarian atrocities,” pushed for a negotiated settlement between the belligerents.4 A conference of the Great Powers and Turkey was accordingly convened at Constantinople in the final weeks of 1876.5 On 21 December 1876 the Powers shared their vision of the future organization of the Balkans with the Porte. What they aimed for was quasi-autonomy for Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a complete overhaul of the political, financial, and judicial systems of both territories. This audacious plan of administrative reform in BosniaHerzegovina and Bulgaria was to be overseen by international commissions with broad authorization to “superintend” the new regulations, directly enforce their decisions through an international gendarmerie, and investigate claims brought against local Ottoman authorities. To ensure that the full extent of Muslim depredations were known and that appropriate punitive and compensatory measures were taken in response, the commissioners would inter alia “find out the culprits, … superintend the examinations, and … insure punishment” of “the perpetrators of the massacres and other excesses,” revise sentences against guilty parties that had already been announced by Ottoman authorities, estimate losses suffered by Christians, determine an appropriate indemnity, and “seek for means generally to assist a population fallen into misery.”6 None of the European proposals were adopted. The appointment of an international commission was anathema to the Porte, which protested the idea as “derogatory to the dignity, the authority, the prestige, and the independence of the Sovereign.”7 Moreover, in a stunning coup de théâtre, the Ottoman minister of foreign affairs Safavet Pasha announced at the first official session of the conference that his government had just promulgated a Constitution (the passage of which, Safavet explained, accounted for the rounds of festive cannon fire that were periodically interrupting the delegates) that modernized the administration of the Balkans, and he insisted that the European Powers give his government due opportunity to implement it.8 When the European negotiators argued that the new Constitution provided neither reparations nor guarantees for the future security of Christians in the Balkans, the Ottomans reminded their counterparts of their own struggles with religious plurality, specifically the massacre of Calvinist Protestants by French Catholics in 1572.9 By 20 January 1877 it had become clear to all that the negotiations had reached an impasse, and the conference was dissolved.10

A European commission in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War: the Commission for Mt. Rhodope (1878) The failure of the Constantinople Congress was felt particularly acutely in Russia, where Tsar Alexander II had cleared the way for thousands of Russians to volunteer in the fight for Balkan independence and staked his national reputation on delivering the 39


Christian populations of Ottoman Europe from alleged Turkish depredations.11 A favorable international climate – threats to the integrity of Ottoman Turkey elicited little sympathy from the European public or its diplomatic classes, and Austria agreed to remain neutral in the event of a Russo-Turkish war in exchange for Russian acceptance of Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina – coupled with a surge in nationalist sentiment at home prompted a Russian declaration of war against Turkey on 24 April 1877.12 The Russian army advanced southward across Bulgaria and by mid-February 1878 had captured San Stefano, an outer suburb of Constantinople.13 The Russian terms of peace were severe: the imposition on the Porte of a crippling indemnity, transfer of certain Ottoman territories to Russia, independence and enlargement of Serbia and Montenegro, independence of Roumania, and the creation of a Christian-governed Bulgaria encompassing the current Bulgarian territory, most of Macedonia, and Eastern Roumelia.14 Although the Porte assented to these terms on 3 March 1878, the elimination of an official Turkish presence from such a large swath of Europe was too much for Great Britain and Austria-Hungary to accept, and a Congress was convened in Berlin to revise the bilateral agreement and determine the future of the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle East.15 The fortunes of the belligerents and course of the Berlin negotiations were not the only aspects of the war closely followed by the public. Once war broke out, tales of Turkish, Russian, and Bulgarian abuses, and the tidal wave of suffering refugees these abuses produced, appeared with regularity in the papers. The representatives at Berlin were neither insulated from these stories nor without heart, and on 11 July the plenipotentiaries, “concerned by the reports which have reached some of them on the present sufferings of the populations of the Rhodope [a range of mountains mostly located in what is today southern Bulgaria] and neighboring countries,” jointly adopted a resolution tasking their representatives in Constantinople with forming a “European Commission” that was to include the Porte in order to “verify the gravity of the situation and seek to remedy it as far as possible.”16 An active conversation thus began in Constantinople among the representatives of the Great Powers over how best to carry out this directive. Russian ambassador Prince Aleksey Lobanov-Rostovsky was particularly active in this debate, but he ultimately failed to convince his counterparts that the Commission’s inquiries should not extend into Russian-occupied territory, and that Muslim refugees from the Mt. Rhodope area should not be permitted to return in any numbers to those areas.17 The instructions ultimately issued to the commissioners provided for Russian cooperation, anticipated repatriation, and included a broad mandate to estimate, as far as possible, the number of these refugees … endeavor to ascertain the places from whence they come, their race, their religion, the motives which have compelled them to leave their country, and which still prevent their return … ascertain what measures can be taken for the immediate relief of their sufferings, and for continuing such relief until these refugees can be repatriated and restored to their homes with every security for their existence.18 The members of the Commission – M. Fawcett (British consul-general); Colonel R. Raab (Austrian military attaché); M. Challet (French consul at Constantinople); M. Basily (first 40


secretary at the Russian Embassy); M. Graziani (second dragoman of the Italian Embassy); M. Müller (German vice consul); M. Naşit Paşa (former governor of the vilayet of Syria); and M. Rıza Bey (former ambassador to Russia) – began meeting in mid-July.19 Relations between the Russian commissioner and his counterparts broke down almost as soon as the Commission commenced its work. As the commissioners heard testimony in Xanthi – a city located to the south of the Rhodope Mountains that had hosted approximately 60,000 refugees, mostly Turkish Muslims, before measures were put in place to send nearly 50,000 of them to other Ottoman territories20 – from refugee-delegates representing the various districts that the exiled population had fled, Basily made several objections to the Commission’s information-gathering procedures. Before any testimonies had even been heard, he protested the appearance of district representatives, proposing that refugees should be “made to appear in groups composed of individuals” from the same village. He also proposed that the Commission, and not the refugees, should be responsible for appointing refugee spokespersons. The other commissioners outvoted Basily on both counts.21 Basily fulminated as numerous testimonies implicating Russian troops in various acts of murder, pillage, theft, and rape were taken, and eventually he threatened to abandon the Commission unless its members confined

Figure 3.1 From The Graphic, 7 September 1878. The Commission is “busy at work at Gabrova, examining the victims of Russian brutality at Kushalar. Consul Fawcett is interrogating the unfortunates; and the remaining Europeans are the other members of the Commission.”



themselves to “receiving general statements, without entering into details of facts.”22 The matter was tabled, and the Commission spent the rest of the day hearing from refugees that blamed Russian troops for their current condition. Basily expanded on his objection at the next session, complaining that the method of inquiry was unnecessarily retrospective and meticulous (and therefore in contravention of instructions), and was inefficient and dilatory.23 He insisted that the refugees who had been heard from were coached and that there was no truth to their “odious calumnies,” going so far as to claim that he had acquired intelligence to the effect that one of the men who had been heard from the day before was himself responsible for the massacre that had been testified to.24 The Commission, he complained, had altogether taken on too much the flavor of a “judicial inquiry,” with its “[examination] of individuals with regard to a series of personal facts” and its “[entry] into the [procès-verbaux] details of all sorts.”25 Ultimately, however, only Müller sided with the Russian representative. The other commissioners voted to carry on as before unless instructed to do otherwise by their respective governments, and continued holding meetings in anticipation that such a corrective would not be issued. Indeed none was, as the majority were directed by their superiors in Constantinople to persist in their approach so long as their method had the backing of a preponderance of the commissioners.26 Over the course of the next 19 sessions (27 July through 14 August) the Commission heard from hundreds of refugees, including widows and orphans. Their testimonies (even the versions recorded in the Commission’s protocols, which were sanitized to preserve, in the words of Raab, the Commission’s “impartiality”) were heart-wrenching and largely consistent: Turks of any age who encountered Russian troops were subject to mutilation, slaughter, and rape; Turkish property was stolen or burnt; relations between Christian Bulgarians and Muslim Turks were fine until the Russians arrived; to return home was unthinkable in light of the occupation. Christian Bulgarians were sometimes implicated in crimes against the refugees, but were more frequently described as having acted to protect them and eager to see their neighbors return home.27 The tensions between the Russian (and to a lesser extent, the German) commissioners with their colleagues came to a boil as the final report took shape. M. Leschine, who replaced Basily after the latter fell ill, quit the Commission after a draft report was presented that cast Russian troops in a negative light, reiterating the latter’s objections and protesting the inclusion of “details … quite foreign to the object of the Commission” in the draft report.28 A revised draft report was still too recriminatory and one-sided for Müller, who reminded his colleagues that the Commission was intended to look ahead, not back, and that refugees who had given their testimony were, as victims, naturally “partial and unjust.”29 The Austrian representative, Colonel Raab, pled illness to explain his failure to attend the Commission’s final meetings and he did not sign the revised draft, but had privately admitted a few days before that his ambassador, Count Zichy, was pressuring him to act in a manner that preserved Russian honor.30 Ultimately, the final report was presented individually by the delegates of England, Turkey, Italy, and France to their respective ambassadors.31 Per the final report, approximately 200,000 refugees were living in the Mt. Rhodope area, all of whom were Muslim and from territories occupied by the Russians. The refugees had fled advancing Russian troops, who butchered and raped Muslims in their path and destroyed their houses and places of worship. Victim testimonies had not been exaggerated; the commissioners had tested their evidence against their own observations of 42

Figure 3.2 Map of a portion of the Rhodope Mountains based on a sketch by Commissioner Fawcett, showing the locations of burned villages (lightly shaded), abandoned villages (light horizontal lines), and repopulated villages (light vertical lines). TNA FO 78/2797, enclosure in no. 1046, Layard to Salisbury, 20 August 1878.




“ruins blackened by the traces of conflagration” behind Russian lines. The refugees themselves were in a sorry state: Conceive a long line of human beings, for the most part in rags, broken down by fatigue, privation, grief, and sickness, stretching from the first spurs of the Rhodope towards Philippopolis and Adrianople, and ceasing only at the borders of the pestilential marshes of the plain … struggling in vain against all kinds of sickness, without any other assistance than a little barley bread parsimoniously distributed by the authorities or the inhabitants … in a word, decimated by certain death, which mows down their ranks.32 Although the Russians and Bulgarians had in some cases collaborated in their acts of destruction, the refugees bore no ill will toward the Bulgarians, but attributed their misfortunes almost exclusively to the Russians, and were accordingly of the view that they could not return home until the Turkish government once against exercised its authority in the area.33 The four commissioners closed with an arresting call for European action: [I]f in the opinion of Europe justice requires that the Mussulmans of Roumelia should be reinstated in their properties, she will accomplish a duty to humanity in substituting her protection for that of a Power which itself acknowledges that this task is beyond its strength. This was coupled with additional recommendations intended to restore tranquility and economic prosperity to the decimated areas in the event that Europe assumed this ambitious task, including the establishment of a new Commission to deal with restitution of property and a mixed police force.34 The issuance of the report registered in the press, but had little constructive impact on the geopolitical status quo.35 Lobanov stubbornly refused to meet with his colleagues in Constantinople to discuss or even “take notice” of the report, taking the position that the terms of the Berlin Congress’ mandate had been fulfilled and that it was for the commissioners, not the ambassadors, to determine how to relieve and repatriate the refugees.36 Appeals for remedial action from the Sultan to the Tsar directly were met with dissimulation and bromides, as Alexander affected ignorance of the true state of affairs in Rhodope and confidence in the fair-mindedness of his troops.37 In the Mt. Rhodope district, epicenter of the refugee crisis, commander of the Russian forces Prince Dondoukoff played at brinksmanship with the British, telling their representative that everything that had come out of the Berlin Congress (including the Rhodope Commission) added up to mere “comedies, bouffonades [the work of a jester], [and] bouffonneries [tomfoolery].”38 Of Europe’s diplomatic luminaries, only British Foreign Secretary Robert Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury, showed any initiative in holding the Russians to account. Before Fawcett’s final report had even crossed his desk, he repeatedly complained to his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Giers, of the conduct of the Russian occupiers, and had gone as far as to float the idea of a “Consular Commission” to hear “complaints of the Mussulman population in Bulgaria and to protect them when injured or menaced” to M. Plunkett, Her Majesty’s chargé d’affaires in Russia.39 Giers bristled at the idea, replying that 44


Russia was “at home [in Bulgaria], and such a Commission … would be an insult to the Russian Army.”40 It was impossible to imagine, he averred, that Russian commanders would permit outrages of the sort described.41 The evidence on which the Report was based was dismissed as “without any serious proof or foundation, and founded on evidence of obvious partiality,” and the Russian army’s reputation defended as “too well established for such calumnies to hold the slightest attraction.”42 In the absence of coordinated, firm, and public condemnations of Russian practices from Italy, France, Great Britain, and Turkey, refugees were left in a worse position than if inquiry had never been made at all. The Commission had inspired hope among some of the refugees, prompting them to leave their comparatively secure positions and exhaust their meager resources in a futile bid to return to their homes.43 Meanwhile, East Roumelia’s Christian ethnic Bulgarians had learned that the Powers other than Russia and the Porte were paper tigers, and that little therefore stood between them and their dream of an independent Christian Bulgaria.44

Atrocities in the new state of Eastern Roumelia: the Aidos and Kirdjali commissions of inquiry (1880) The Berlin Congress resulted in more than the creation of a European Commission of Inquiry into the Mt. Rhodope district. Through the Berlin Treaty, the Powers established two semi-autonomous provinces in the region that today encompasses Bulgaria. The Principality of Bulgaria, although it remained a nominal suzerain of the Porte, was established as a constitutional monarchy governed by a Christian prince who was to be both elected by the citizens and vetted by the signatory powers of the Berlin treaty.45 Eastern Roumelia, in theory at least, remained more directly under the control of the Sultan, who retained the authority to appoint a Christian governor-general to administer the region and to garrison troops along the its land and sea frontiers. However, the Sultan was only to appoint a governor-general who met with the approval of the other treaty signatories, was to station Ottoman troops within the province only if the governorgeneral summoned them, and was not to employ irregular troops along the borders.46 In addition to these treaty-based limits, the Sultan’s freedom of action in Eastern Roumelia was curtailed by the political realities associated with having recently lost a war to Russia and survived only with the intercession of other powerful states.47 The withdrawal of Russian troops from both regions in mid-1879 marked the end of the first stage in the restoration of international tranquility, but the situation remained on a knife edge as growing religious and nationalist tensions threatened the integrity of the new states, and by extension the balance among European powers that had been struck in Berlin.48 Roumelia’s Muslims, the favorite target of Russian forces, were now beset by “Gymnasts” – Christian ethnic Bulgarians who belonged to so-called Secret Societies that received weapons and training from the Russian Army and who openly worked towards the goal of uniting Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia and cleansing the region of Greeks and Muslims – as well as by opportunistic Bulgarians covetous of Muslim land, property, and women.49 Meanwhile, the Roumelian National Assembly, which was overwhelmingly dominated by Bulgarians despite the fact that Muslims comprised at least 20 percent of the population, relegated the latter’s pleas for assistance, in the words of British consul Michell, “to confinement in an official pigeon-hole.”50 The British archives are rife with stories of crimes against Muslims and a Roumelian government that “by its negligence, 45


and partly by its connivance, [was] greatly instrumental in placing a large section of [the Muslim] population on the verge of death.”51 In short, the Muslims’ oppressors were well armed, cruel, persistent, and operating with de facto official sanction. In the sprawling Rhodope Mountains, dozens of predominantly Muslim villages rejected the rule of the Treaty-sanctioned Plovdiv- (Philippopolis) based national government and effectively established independent republics.52 The situation became critical in February 1880, when gendarmes dispatched to restore Roumelian state authority in the Kirdjali district cooperated with local Gymnasts in a campaign of widespread murder, rape, and destruction. The abuses triggered diplomatic action in favor of international inquiry. On receiving the news, the Ottoman minister of foreign affairs Sawas Pasha reached out to British ambassador Constantinople Austen Layard to inform him that it was the Ottoman government’s intention to send a Commission to investigate. Presuming that Sawas “would wish that it should be a Mixed or International one,” Layard threw his weight behind the suggestion and attempted to bring Salisbury on board. Layard presented it as an opportunity to prove to the Sultan that Europe remonstrated against all acts of oppression regardless of whether the victim or perpetrator was Muslim or Christian, and to smooth over enduring resentments caused by the imposition of the Treaty of Berlin, which had effectively removed the victims from the Sultan’s direct protection. The European interest in a Commission, he claimed, lay in the opportunity to gain a moral victory and demonstrate a commitment to the integrity of the fledgling statelet: “Surely Europe cannot have established a free Eastern Roumelia in order that one part of its population, however greatly in the majority, should use its freedom in persecuting and shamefully oppressing the remainder.”53 Michell, for his part, more modestly suggested to Salisbury that he, the Porte, and the Austrians (who had also received verified intelligence confirming the violence) collaborate on an inquiry in order to “reassure the suffering villagers.”54 But the Austrians could not be brought on board, as Austrian foreign minister Baron Haymerle explained that “a Consular investigation would be more likely to add to them than to calm the exasperation of the two parties.”55 As international efforts stalled, Governor-General Aleko Pasha (Alexander Bogoridi) dispatched a Commission of his own to investigate the crimes. It is not clear what prompted Aleko, a Greek-educated Bulgarian who took every opportunity to dismiss Muslim complaints and depress Muslim morale, to move so swiftly in this case.56 Michell suggested that Bulgaria’s political class was anxious that the attacks on Muslim and Greek communities were reaching such a pitch that they risked condemnation and action by the Powers or the Porte if they failed to show initiative.57 A savvy political operative with years of experience in the Ottoman administration, it is likely that Aleko was acting in the hopes of preempting a more searching and independent international and Turkish inquiry. Aleko’s first Commission was composed of “notable Muslims of the country,” and its mission was to identify anyone involved in the atrocities, bring them to trial, and draft a comprehensive report on the events.58 The reports sent back by this Commission, however, were deemed to be at such variance with the victims’ petitions for damages and intervention submitted to the national government, as well as those documents sent by the local governors, that Aleko sent a second Commission “to ascertain on the spot the acts committed, to listen to the complaints of the inhabitants, and to investigate the crimes committed by soldiers of the militia.”59 Upon reaching Kirdjali the two 46


Commissions were combined, and the final report was ultimately signed by nine commissioners, including two foreigners working for the Roumelian government: Baron de Toustain (a French lieutenant colonel and chief of staff in the Roumelian military), and George Colville Borthwick (an Englishman employed as a colonel-inspector of the Roumelian Gendarmerie).60 The Commission’s final report was issued in late May. The first section was given to describing in detail the recent history of the Kirdjali district, a region marked since the Russian occupation of 1877 by open pro-Turkish insurrection, first against occupying Russians, and later against Roumelian authorities, as well as a high incidence of banditry and violence. The commissioners described the immediate aftermath of the decision of at least 12 Kirdjali villages to declare independence from Roumelia – “like a rosary breaking apart” in the words of one of the rebellion’s ringleaders – in early February 1880, as well as the decision by local Bulgarian officials to send Roumelian gendarmes to pacify the area.61 The second section dealt primarily with the details of this operation, during which the Muslims had suffered. The commissioners were highly critical of Captain Yacheroff, the Russian commander of the Roumelian army, who had made an error “from a political point of view” by instructing his column chiefs to mobilize local Gymnasts and requisition food from the villages. Moreover, the general, who had received orders to avoid bloodshed as much as possible, had at the beginning of the deployment directed his Bulgarian troops to emulate the notoriously “generous” and “courageous” conduct of the Russian Army that had until recently occupied the country, inflaming passions and transforming “a simple action into an expedition of war.”62 The commissioners also noted that in many cases villagers had exaggerated their harms in their petitions to the government and to the press. Many women, according to the Commission, embellished or fabricated their claims of rape, numerous bodies of persons purportedly murdered by government troops were discovered in remote locations, as opposed to in the villages themselves, or had injuries consistent with weapons in use by local brigands, and many claims for physical damage to property were disavowed once the Commission arrived.63 But even accounting for these cases, Colonel Borthwick wrote to the British ambassador at Constantinople, it was “only too painfully evident that in several instances people had been most brutally and wantonly murdered,” and that despite the difficulties in verifying the occurrence of rapes so long after the events, many had certainly occurred and circumstantial evidence “[laid] the crime indisputably at the door of the militia [gendarmes].”64 The commissioners largely acquitted the Gymnasts as a group, concluding that “the Bulgarian population, suddenly called to arms, attenuated Captain Yacheroff’s irresponsibility with its innate discipline.”65 The theme of harms suffered was continued in the third section of the report, in which the commissioners briefly described the injuries sustained in each of the 23 villages that participated in the inquiry, separately noting the basic circumstances accompanying the arrival of the gendarmes to each town (including fighting, or more commonly, the retreat of all but the women, children, or elderly from the area), the number of rapes and murders, physical damage to property, and the amount requested by the villagers in compensation. The nature of the evidence, physical or testimonial, that had been offered in proof of the claims, and whether any contradictory evidence existed, was also recorded.66 47


In the fourth and final section of their report, the commissioners reiterated that the Roumelian government was forced by circumstances to deploy troops, but nevertheless identified certain individuals who had “gone beyond the limits” and committed “unpardonable crimes.” Yacheroff was cleared of direct participation (though the Commission noted in a footnote the conflicting testimonies that the commander had killed two elderly Turks) but was deemed to be morally responsible for the “lightness of command” that had allowed his troops to act without restraint. Four low-ranking officers (three Russians and one Bulgarian) were cited for a handful of acts of murder, violence, incendiarism, and theft, and two Bulgarian gendarmes were accused of rape. Despite the favorable comments towards the Gymnasts in the second section, 26 Bulgarian villagers were accused of theft, incendiarism (two cases), and brigandage (one case).67 In mid-May 1880, before the Kirdjali Commission’s report was issued, word reached Plovdiv of a second series of outrages in the northeastern canton of Anchialou. Local Roumelian authorities were accused of collaborating with troops from the Bulgarian Principality and members of the local Gymnast Societies in “barbarous proceedings” against Muslim villages.68 In what Michell described as a “striking illustration” of Governor-General Aleko Pasha’s method of either “deceiving himself or attempt[ing] to deceive others as to the real state of affairs,” Aleko dismissed British and Austrian reports of atrocities as “intentionally malevolent.”69 By June, however, his denialism had run its course, and he had once again decided to dispatch a Commission to investigate the incidents. He later explained to British consul Stephen, Michell’s temporary replacement, that it was from the start his priority to appoint a Commission with a “European element” to investigate the matter. Indeed, his first proposals called for an inquiry by four Bulgarians, two Turks, and three foreigners in the Roumelian service, including M. Baraczi, a Hungarian serving as the governor-general’s private secretary; M. Mrachek, an Austrian in the service of the Roumelian government as the procurer of Bourgas; and Borthwick.70 The Permanent Committee (the main organ of the legislative branch), however, only approved funds for a five-member body, reducing the number of foreign nationals from three to two in the process. This provoked a confrontation with the small community of foreign nationals in Plovdiv who sought a more internationalized inquiry. Baraczi promptly resigned from his post, seething at what he called the conspiracy “to influence … the ultimate verdict of the Commission and to understate the importance of what had taken place.”71 Stephen met with various Bulgarian officials, including the governor-general, to explain that by including a “strong European element” on the Commission they could preempt allegations that they had attempted to conceal the facts and that “there had been inequality in the formation of the Commission.”72 Borthwick, for his part, refused to participate in any Commission that did not include Baraczi.73 Aleko relented, but as the Hungarian secretary had become ill and was no longer available the parties remained at an impasse, with Aleko complaining to Stephen that he could only nominate members, not cure them. Ultimately, Borthwick and Stephen accepted that two international representatives would sit on the Commission, and that Mrachek would take the place of the incapacitated Barcazi.74 The Commission was thus ultimately composed of three Bulgarians (including Zlataroff of the Kirdjali Commission), two Europeans, and one Turk (Pehlivanoglou) who, it was rumored, harbored Bulgarian sympathies.75



Aleko Pasha’s commissioners were instructed to travel to the scene of the events to investigate them, seek the perpetrators of the burning and pillage of the villagers in order to hand them over to justice, and make a fair estimate of the burned houses and destroyed effects.76 Their final report summarized the course events had taken in the region, explaining how certain villages, including some that straddled the border separating Eastern Roumelia from Bulgaria, had for years mistakenly paid their taxes to the former, much to the annoyance of the latter. Upon being notified of its proper status as a Bulgarian town, the mayor of one of those villages, Belovo, prepared to receive the Principality’s troops. He was not, however, informed of the date of their arrival, and fighting occurred when local Muslims mistook some Principality irregulars without uniforms for brigands, and continued when the irregulars were replaced by state troops. As the Principality’s troops advanced through the region (and into Roumelian territory) they passively stood by while anti-Turk Gymnasts burned and plundered Muslim property. In a few cases, Roumelian gendarmes themselves took advantage of the opportunities for pillage. But the majority of the responsibility for the atrocities was placed at the feet of the highest-ranking Roumelian officials and commanders of the canton, who had called the Gymnast forces into action, refused to send gendarmes to protect Muslim citizens, and exacerbated the chaos by abandoning their posts as thousands of Muslim refugees in search of aid and security scattered throughout the region.77 The commissioners specifically recommended against collective punishment of local Bulgarians, and suggested that 23 villagers be tried for a few acts of murder and numerous acts of pillage, five gendarmes for various acts of looting, corruption and dereliction of duty, their commander for failing to deploy his men to restore public order, and two local officials for various negligent acts that exacerbated the conflict.78 The commissioners also recommended that indemnities be paid to the villagers whose properties and places of worship had been destroyed.79 The Great Powers had not sat idly by as the Muslims in Kirdjali and Aidos were attacked and as the Roumelian inquiries proceeded, but the possibility of joint investigative action was dealt a fatal blow by the replacement of Disraeli’s Conservatives with William Gladstone’s Liberal party in the April 1880 general election in Great Britain. Gladstone had spent the campaign delivering impassioned broadsides against the Conservative government for, among other things, antagonizing Russia, favoring unilateral over collective Great Power action, and coddling the Porte.80 As prime minister, he proved to be every bit as committed to reversing these policies as one would have expected. That is not to say that the new administration was immune to the humanitarian problem of Muslim suffering in Roumelia. Gladstone’s new foreign minister, George Gower, Earl Granville, wasted no time in attempting to find an appropriate solution to the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Roumelia: one of his first instructions to the newly appointed ambassador to the Porte, George Goschen, was to consult with colleagues “as to the best means of ascertaining the truth of the reports respecting the destruction of Turkish villages, and making representations at Philippopolis which may secure the punishment of the offenders and future adequate protection for the Mussulman inhabitants.”81 But in practical terms, the new course plotted by Gladstone meant that 49


Russia (or indeed, any of the Powers) could single-handedly stymie even the most dedicated British efforts to undertake an international inquiry. For about a month, the possibility of appointing an International Commission to investigate and remediate was discussed among the Great Powers, with Goschen (enthusiastically), British ambassador to Russia Frederick Hamilton Temple-Blackwood, First Marquess of Dufferin (enthusiastically), and Granville (half-heartedly) trying to shepherd the idea to fruition.82 The Italians, Austrians, Germans, and French were each amenable to collective inquiry, but shared Gladstone’s view that it should only be undertaken if Russia could be brought on board.83 But Russia, predictably, would not budge. Russian representatives, among their objections, professed that the events in Roumelia did not warrant the label of “massacre” and that such deaths were simply a feature of life in the Orient; that sending a Turkish commissioner as part of a notional Commission would weaken the authority of the largely independent Roumelian government; that fictitious evidence would be presented; that the investigation might foment hatred between Roumelia’s ethnic groups; and that the investigation might “be perverted into an instrument for discrediting the Russian Army” in the event (“though this is unlikely,” according to Russian foreign minister de Giers) it were to catch “in its net a few” misbehaving Russian officers.84 Between Russia’s intransigence, Aleko Pasha’s decision to conduct his own inquiries, the reshuffling of Great Britain’s priorities to favor rapprochement with Russia and collective action, and the failure of any other Great Power to seize the initiative, the possibility of collective investigative action was eliminated.85 There is no indication in the British archives that any of the persons referred for trial by the Aidos Commission were prosecuted or punished, but the prefect of Aidos resigned a few months after the attacks.86 Of the four Russian officers implicated in the Kirdjali attacks, the three lowest-ranking officers were discreetly dismissed from service in the Roumelian gendarmerie; no appeal was made to the Russian consulate for their punishment and no announcement of their release was published in the local papers.87 Captain Yacheroff was treated even more leniently, being granted special permission to publish a defense of his conduct and given two months’ “leave of absence” to travel to Russia, a trip from which it was expected he would not return.88 Charges were dropped in almost all of the other cases recommended for prosecution.89 Only one of the two “incendiares” was found guilty; his punishment was eight days’ imprisonment for negligence. Around half of the Gymnasts accused of theft were found guilty, and most of them received sentences of no more than a few weeks in prison.90

Concluding thoughts What this essay’s examination of 1876–80 makes clear is that the road of international human rights fact-finding was a rocky one. The fact that international commissions were considered or formed at all in response to reports of mass violence, when the practice was entirely absent from earlier centuries, suggests a significant shift in thinking had taken place across Europe by the latter half of the nineteenth century. By 1876 advocates, pamphleteers, and journalists throughout Europe would have recognized among each other a widely shared belief that states must be held to minimum standards of conduct, and that massacre demanded not merely individual state-to-state remonstrances, but extraordinary explication and condign correction. The diplomatic record reveals that this vision was often professed by the political class of each of Europe’s Great Powers as 50


well. Moreover, the anti-massacre sentiments that animated lay and official actions arose in response to violence against Muslims and Christians alike, giving the inquisitorial interventions of this period a veneer of ethnic and religious even-handedness that still resonates as laudable. A word of caution is due however; this essay has only cracked open the door to the history of international human rights inquiry. The questions of how deep and pure this vein of equal opportunity empathy ran in the public and in policymakers, how it interacted with the ever-shifting realpolitik considerations and cultural preconceptions that framed interstate relations, as well as the question of the cause and effect relationship between activism and political outcome, will only be answerable after additional research. These expressions of a Great Power movement towards joint human rights inquiry are interesting, but it is this new model’s limitations and the attempts to resist it that stand out in the three stories told in this essay. Great Power efforts to inquire and remediate could rouse strong opposition in their targets, as illustrated by the failure to secure Commissions in response to reported Ottoman abuses in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria in 1876. The chief objection then raised by the Porte, that the proposed inquiry would infringe on its sovereignty, is one that persists today among states targeted by inquiry. For states secure in their sovereignty but sensitive to a loss of international status, the offensive quality of the new mode of inquiry was its inherently public nature. Even where an international Commission seemed well launched – as with the Mt. Rhodope inquiry of 1878 – the merest hint that one of the inquiring states would be embarrassed before the world by being named as a cause of the crisis could result in a Commission cut off at the knees. Russia’s fierce objections that the Mt. Rhodope Commission had been led astray in Roumelia, and that the reputation of the Russian army alone was enough to exonerate its troops, rang hollow in 1878, but successfully deprived the body of its exceptional quality of jointness that lent its commissioner’s findings a sense of momentum, that is, a sense that their suggestions were of the highest quality and the expectation that they would be seriously discussed. In the case of Russia, the experience with the Mt. Rhodope Commission left such a bad aftertaste that it spoiled the possibility of a Great Power-led effort to inquire into and remediate the attacks on Muslims that marred Roumelia two years later. One of the most interesting counter-thrusts to the trend of international inquiry was the decision of Governor-General Aleko Pasha to convene two Commissions of his own, and effectively internationalize them by including non-Roumelian nationals among the commissioners. There is no reason to believe that foreigners like Borthwick actively assisted the Roumelian government in covering up its crimes but as the commissioner’s employer, Governor-General Aleko Pasha was in an excellent position to exercise a subtle influence over his staffer.91 At any rate, Aleko retained the power to select the non-foreign commissioners, control the scope and timing of the inquiries, and shape his government’s “humanitarian” and public relations response to their recommendations – all circumstances that certainly call into question the accuracy of their reports. The scope of this essay is too narrow to produce broad generalizations about international human rights fact-finding in the nineteenth century. It does, however, remind us to pause and appreciate the tremendous gains that have been made since then. True, international fact-finding may even today be delegitimized, defied, or deflected by states, but not nearly so casually as between 1876 and 1880. That fact alone, and the victory 51


over the forces of impunity it represents, should serve as a source of inspiration for our generation’s ongoing efforts to perfect the science and art of human rights fact-finding.

Notes 1 Alexander Macfie, The Eastern Question 1774–1923, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 35–6; Richard Millman, “The Bulgarian Massacres Reconsidered,” East European Review, 1980, vol. 58, no. 2, 218–31. 2 James Phillips, “The Eastern Crisis, 1875–1878, in British and Russian Press and Society,” University of Nottingham, PhD thesis, 2012, pp. 129–36. 3 William Gladstone, Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, London: J. Murray, 1876, p. 8. See generally Jeremy Black, The Tory World, London: Routledge, 2016, pp. 160–5, p. 179. 4 George Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, vol. 6, London: John Murray, 1920, pp. 60–6. 5 Buckle, Benjamin Disraeli, pp. 84–7. 6 The National Archives (London), Foreign Office (hereafter TNA FO) 424/37, annexes 2, 3, 4, and 5 to enclosure 4 in no. 126, Salisbury to Derby, 23 December 1876. 7 TNA FO 424/37, enclosure 1 in no. 230, Salisbury to Derby, 22 January 1877. 8 Sinan Kuneralp (ed.), Temoignages Diplomatiques Français sur la Conference de Constantinople Decembre 1876–Janvier 1877, Istanbul: Isis Press, 2013, p. 39. Count Charles de Moüy, secretary of the French Embassy, wrote in his memoirs that on receiving this news, the European plenipotentiaries simply “kept a deep silence … then, without any compliment, and as if nothing had happened, presented their general considerations on the object of their meeting.” Count Charles de Moüy, Souvenirs et Causeries d’un Diplomate, Paris: PlonNourrit, 1909, p. 51. 9 Kuneralp, Temoignages, p. 43. 10 TNA FO 424/37, enclosure 3 in no. 223, Salisbury to Derby, 22 January 1877. 11 A. J. Rieber, “Alexander II: A Revisionist View,” Journal of Modern History, 1971, vol. 43, no. 1, 57; Quentin Barry, War in the East. A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War 1877–78, London: Helion, 2012, p. 47; David MacKenzie, The Serbs and Russian Pan-Slavism, 1875–1878, New York: Cornell University Press, 1967, pp. 121–6. 12 MacKenzie, The Serbs, pp. 189, 195. 13 Mesut Uyar and Edward Erickson, A Military History of the Ottomans. From Osman to Ataturk, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009, p. 193. 14 Barry, War in the East, p. 430. 15 William Medlicott, The Congress of Berlin and After. A Diplomatic History of the Near Eastern Settlement, 1878–1880, London: Frank Cass, 1963, pp. 1–34. 16 TNA FO 78/2900, attachment to no. 103, Salisbury to Secretary of State, 12 July 1878. 17 Turkey. No. 49 (1878) – Correspondence Respecting the Proceedings of the International Commission Sent to the Mount Rhodope District, London: Harrison, 1878 (hereafter Turkey No. 49), p. 48, no. 1, Layard to Salisbury, 18 July 1878. 18 Turkey No. 49, enclosure in no. 1. 19 Turkey No. 49, enclosure in no. 1. 20 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 1 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 21 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 2 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 22 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 2 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 23 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 3 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 24 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 3 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 25 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 3 in no. 6, Layard to Salisbury, 5 August 1878. 26 Turkey No. 45 (1878) – Further Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of Turkey, London: Harrison, 1878, p. 56, no. 15, Layard to Salisbury, 29 July 1878. 27 Turkey No. 52 (1878) – Further Correspondence Respecting the Proceedings of the International Commission Sent to the Mount Rhodope District, London: Harrison, 1878, p. 6, “Report of the Austrian Military Attaché, Colonel Ritter von Raab, to Count Zichy, in Constantinople.” 28 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 2 in no. 10, Layard to Salisbury, 20 August 1878; annex to Procès-Verbal no. 28 in enclosure 6 in no. 12, Layard to Salisbury, 1 September 1878.



29 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 6 in no. 12. 30 TNA FO 78/2796, Fawcett to Layard, 2 August 1878. Raab was hopeful that British ambassador to Constantinople Austen Layard would be able counteract whatever influences held sway over the Austro-Hungarian ambassador. During a subsequent conversation between Zichy and Layard, the Austrian ambassador admitted that he was convinced of the truth of the allegations against Russia, but he believed that only a new “International Commission for the protection of the Mussulmans of Roumelia” could check “the ill treatment and outrages” of the Russians, and that nothing would be accomplished in this direction unless the question of causes was avoided entirely. TNA FO 78/2798, no. 1088, Layard to Salisbury, 1 September 1878. 31 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 7 in no. 10. 32 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 1 in no. 13, Layard to Salisbury, 28 August 1878. 33 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 1 in no. 13, Layard to Salisbury, 28 August 1878. 34 Turkey No. 49, enclosure 1 in no. 13, Layard to Salisbury, 28 August 1878. 35 Russian newspapers decried the actions of the Commission as an attack on Russian troops and a deviation from the instructions given by the Congress. TNA FO 65/1076, no. 814, Plunkett to Marquis of Salisbury, 25 September 1878; TNA FO 65/1077, no. 848, Lord Loftus to Salisbury, 9 October 1878; no. 854, Loftus to Salisbury, 16 October 1878. The report received a mixed reception in the British press. Papers like The Essex Standard took the report at face value, declaring that “nothing in the experience of mankind in the darkest passages of its history exceeds in fiendish barbarity the deeds which this document reveals.” The Essex Standard, West Suffolk Gazette, and Eastern Counties’ Advertiser, 31 August 1878, 2. Others criticized the commissioners for the absence of efforts to verify the claims of the refugees through steps as basic as cross-examination and considered it unlikely that a fighting force as widely respected as the Russian would stoop to the level of conduct described in the Report. The Rhodope Commission, Spectator, 16 November 1878, 9. 36 Turkey No. 49, no. 11, Layard to Salisbury, 1 September 1878; no. 15, Layard to Salisbury, 29 September 1878. 37 TNA FO 65/1006, no. 788, Plunkett to Salisbury, 17 September 1878. 38 Turkey No. 54, enclosure in no. 30, Wolff to Salisbury, 24 September 1878. 39 TNA FO 65/1006, no. 730, Plunkett to Salisbury, 22 August 1878. 40 TNA FO 65/1006, no. 730, Plunkett to Salisbury, 22 August 1878. 41 TNA FO 65/1006, no. 730, Plunkett to Salisbury, 22 August 1878. 42 TNA FO 181/632, no. 110, Giers to Plunkett, 10 September 1871. Curiously, I have not found any evidence that Salisbury lodged a protest once the final report was placed before him in early September. Perhaps he felt there was little to be gained from another remonstration destined to fall on deaf ears. 43 Turkey No. 54, enclosure 2 in no. 235, Layard to Marquis of Salisbury, 9 November 1878. 44 Turkey No. 54, enclosure 6 in no. 176, Layard to the Marquis of Salisbury, 25 October 1878. “[W]e see by the example of the Rhodope Commission that the Great Powers will never be able to pull together, whilst Russia is the only one amongst them which will stand up for us, and from whom we can hope to obtain our just rights,” said one Bulgarian member of the district government at Bourgas to a British vice consul. 45 R. J. Crampton, Bulgaria, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 94. William Miller, The Ottoman Empire and its Successors, 1801–1927, New York: Routledge, 2012, p. 389. 46 Crampton, Bulgaria, p. 95. 47 For example, although the Treaty of Berlin allowed the Sultan to do so, as of 1880 he had not garrisoned troops along Roumelia’s borders. Medlicott, Congress of Berlin, pp. 360–3 (speculating as to the political, financial, and tactical reasons for this decision). In 1880 the Russian ambassador at Constantinople confessed to his British counterpart that Russia had only agreed to allow Turkey to occupy the Roumelian frontier to satisfy public opinion, but that if Ottoman troops had been stationed there Russia would have retaliated. TNA FO 78/3084, no. 410, Layard to Ball, 20 April 1880. 48 Medlicott, Congress of Berlin, p. 359. 49 Ömer Turan, The Turkish Minority in Bulgaria, 1878–1908, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1998, p. 67; TNA FO 424/96, enclosure 1 in no. 150, Michell to Salisbury, 29 February 1880; Justin McCarthy, Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821–1922,



50 51

52 53

54 55 56

57 58 59 60 61 62

63 64 65 66 67 68


Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1995, pp. 72–4 (discussing the persecution of Muslims by Bulgarians in the context of the 1876–1877 war). TNA FO 424/94, no. 65, Michell to Salisbury, 8 December 1879; Turan, Turkish Minority, p. 253. TNA FO 424/94, no. 31, Michell to Salisbury, 20 December 1879. See also TNA FO 424/ 94, enclosure in no. 65, Michell to Salisbury, 28 December 1870; TNA FO 424/94, enclosures in no. 66, Michell to Salisbury, 28 December 1879; TNA FO 424/95, enclosures in no. 232, Layard to Salisbury, 10 January 1880; TNA FO 424/96, enclosure in no. 298, Michell to Salisbury, 12 March 1880. TNA FO 424/96, no. 39, Michell to Salisbury, 22 February 1880. Bernard Lory, “Ahmed Aga Tämräsljata: The Last Derebey of the Rhodopes,” in Kemal H. Karpat (ed.) The Turks of Bulgaria: The History, Culture and Political Fate of a Minority, Istanbul: Isis, 1990, pp. 194–6. TNA FO 424/97, Layard to Salisbury, 31 March 1880. He sent a follow-up message a few days later enclosing a translated copy of a newspaper article alleging hypocrisy on the part of the European Powers that had been so quick to decry outrages perpetrated by Muslims at Batak and elsewhere. TNA FO, 78/3084, no. 388, Layard to Salisbury, 6 April 1880. TNA FO 424/96, no. 325, Michell to Salisbury, 26 March 1880. TNA FO 424/97, no. 56, Elliot to Salisbury, 29 March 1880. TNA FO 78/3121, no. 54, Michell to Salisbury, 13 February 1880 (Aleko delayed distributing government order declaring Gymnastic Societies illegal to provincial authorities, allowing their drilling and intimidation to continue). TNA FO 424/95, no. 334, Michell to Salisbury, 13 February 1880 (Aleko criticizes Borthwick of “meddling in political affairs” when the latter complains that civilians are being drilled in contravention of suppression order); TNA FO 424/96, no. 23, Michell to Salisbury, 3 March 1880 (Aleko “in no rush to move against secret societies”). TNA FO 424/97, no. 251, Michell to Salisbury, 10 April 1880. Commission d’Enquete du Kirdjali, Annexes au Rapport, Philippopolis: Imprimerie Centrale, 1880, p. 167 (reproducing the “Order of the Governor-General of Eastern Roumelia” of 28 February 1880, translation on file with author). Turkey No. 10 – Report of the Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Occurrences in the Kirdjali District, London: Harrison, 1880 (hereafter Kirdjali Report), pp. 1, 12 n. 2. Kirdjali Report, p. 19; TNA FO 78/3124, no. 239, Michell to Earl Granville, 4 May 1880. Kirdjali Report, pp. 2–8. Kirdjali Report, pp. 7–9 (identifying culpable conduct and querying whether it could not be assumed “that the soldiers, hearing such language in the mouth of their chief, would no longer see the inhabitants of Kirdjali as those who had been led astray, but as an enemy they had to fight?”). Yacheroff, in his written testimony, stated that he had activated the Gymnasts to “make a moral impression on the rebels.” Commission d’Enquete du Kirdjali, Annexes au Rapport, p. 101. Kirdjali Report, pp. 11–12. It does not seem to have occurred to the commissioners that some families or individuals might wish to conceal a rape to preserve family or personal honor, or out of fear of reprisals. Kirdjali Report, pp. 11–12. Kirdjali Report, p. 9. Kirdjali Report, pp. 12–18. Kirdjali Report, pp. 18–19; TNA FO 424/101, no. 200, Stephen to Granville, 31 July 1880. TNA FO 424/98, no. 233, Layard to Granville, 11 May 1880; TNA FO 78/3124, no. 260, Michell to Granville, 22 May 1880; TNA FO 78/3124, no. 261, Michell to Granville, 22 May 1880 (attaching report by Austrian vice consul). The violence was widely reported to have occurred in the district of Aidos, but in fact it had occurred in the neighboring canton of d’Anchialou-Messemvria, a fact noted by the commissioners in their report. Turkey No. 14 – Despatch from Her Majesty’s Consul-General at Philippopolis forwarding the Report of the Aidos Commission, London: Harrison, 1880 (hereafter Aidos Report), p. 2. The Commission was nevertheless widely referred to as the “Aidos Commission.” TNA FO 424/99, no. 3, Michell to Granville, 22 May 1880; TNA FO 424/99, enclosure 1 in no. 189, Michell to Granville, 29 May 1880 (illustrating how Aleko misrepresented the extent



70 71

72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79

80 81 82


84 85

86 87

of the harms suffered by Muslims and the identity of the perpetrators in his messages to the Porte). TNA FO 195/1320, Michell to Goschen, 8 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 615, Stephen to Granville, 16 June 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 615, Stephen to Granville, 16 June 1880. As noted there, Baraczi privately communicated to Stephen that “many Bulgarians” were opposed to his appointment, as he had already visited the district in response to the outrages and provided the governorgeneral with a report incriminating their “compatriots.” When he also learned that the number of commissioners was reduced in number, he was so disgusted that he abandoned his efforts to sit on the Commission. TNA FO 424/99, no. 615, Stephen to Granville, 16 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 618, Stephen to Granville, 19 June 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 618, Stephen to Granville, 19 June 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 618, Stephen to Granville, 19 June 1880. As noted there, Aleko also promised Stephen that he would inquire whether Toustain could also return as a third European commissioner, but he apparently could not be spared. Aidos Report, p. 8; TNA FO 424/99, no. 615, Stephen to Granville, 16 June 1880. Aidos Report, p. 3. Aidos Report, pp. 2–6. Aidos Report, pp. 7–8. Aidos Report, pp. 7–8. Villages on both sides of the Bulgarian-Roumelia border had been victimized, but the commissioners refrained from reporting on acts of destruction that occurred in Bulgarian territory. TNA FO 424/101, no. 71, Goschen to Granville, 28 July 1880. William Ewart Gladstone, Political Speeches in Scotland – March and April 1880 – by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M.P., vol. 2, Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1880, pp. 208–21 (13th Midlothian speech, delivered 22 March 1880) and p. 320 (17th Midlothian speech, delivered 30 March 1880). TNA FO 424/98, no. 395, Granville to Goschen, 25 May 1880. TNA FO 424/99, Dufferin to Granville, 5 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 100, Granville to Goschen, 5 June 1880 (instructing Goschen not to press the point if there was difficulty in getting all the representatives in Constantinople to agree to joint action). TNA FO 424/99, no. 180, Granville to Elliot, 8 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 293, Granville to Goschen, 14 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 294, Granville to Paget, 14 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 114, Granville to Dufferin, 6 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 364, Goschen to Granville, 17 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 376, Granville to Dufferin, 18 June 1880; TNA FO 424/ 99, no. 655, Lyons to Granville, 29 June 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 270, Elliot to Granville, 9 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 306, Goschen to Granville, 8 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 279, Russell to Granville, 7 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 438, Granville to Lyons, 21 June 1880; TNA FO 424/99, no. 352, Goschen to Granville, 18 June 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 156, Goschen to Granville, 31 May 1880. TNA FO 424/99, no. 293, Granville to Goschen, 14 June 1880 (“Until the Commission appointed by Aleko Pasha to inquire into the burning of the Turkish villages in the Aidos district shall have made its report, it would not be desirable to institute a separate Consular inquiry into that matter.”); TNA FO 424/99, no. 402, Granville to Dufferin, 19 June 1880 (expressing satisfaction at receiving Russian support for proposal to settle frontier line between Turkey and Greece); TNA FO 424/99, no. 529, Granville to Lyons, 24 June 1880 (abandoning the idea “as the Russian government seemed to be so strongly opposed to anything having the character of an international inquiry”); TNA FO 424/99, no. 532, Goschen to Granville, 18 June 1880 (reporting that from the perspective of the ambassadors, there could be “no question that, in view of the Commission having made a Report, which clearly must be accepted under the circumstances, and in view of a Commission having been appointed to inquire into the Aidos outrages,” a collective inquiry “could not take place”). TNA FO 78/3126, no. 332, Stephen to Granville, 5 September 1880. TNA FO 78/3125, no. 314, Stephen to Granville, 31 July 1880.



88 TNA FO 78/3125, no. 314, Stephen to Granville, 31 July 1880; TNA FO 78/3126, no. 365, Stephen to Granville, 16 November 1880. Yacheroff’s defense can be found at TNA FO 78/ 3125, no. 298, Stephen to Granville, 26 June 1880. 89 TNA FO 78/3125, no. 314, Stephen to Granville, 31 July 1880. 90 Turkey No. 19, enclosure in no. 134, Stephen to Granville, 31 July 1880. At least one punishment of two years was handed out, but it is not clear from the records which crime this was in response to. TNA FO 424/105, no. 159, Stephen to Granville, 3 December 1880. 91 The jury is out. Borthwick was quite able to stand up to the Gymnasts in Aleko Pasha’s inner circle, and in a private communication to Michell or Goschen he freely admitted that he had no faith in the “medical knowledge or political honesty” of the doctor who had accompanied the Kirdjali Commission to examine exhumed bodies and women alleging rape. TNA FO 424/97, enclosures in no. 10, Michell to Salisbury, 19 March 1880; TNA FO 424/99, enclosure 2 in Goschen, no. 532. Michell, however, noted a number of inconsistencies between the final report and Borthwick’s earlier letters to him, as well as the overall weak tone of the final report. Enclosure 3 in Goschen, no. 532.



In 1903, British consul Roger Casement traveled up the Congo River to gather evidence about the devastation the Independent Congo State (ICS) was inflicting on its indigenous population. Casement’s report was not the first news Britain’s government or people heard about the atrocities committed in Congo in the name of, and with the knowledge, of Leopold II, king of the Belgians and king-sovereign of the ICS. Nor did Casement’s report have an immediate impact. But the report was the central event in a long process of persuading one state to take effective action against another in response to a humanitarian catastrophe – a process that built upon a vague sense that even Congo’s indigenous people had rights that should be protected. Where does the international movement to reform the administration of the Congo fit into the history of human rights? If we exclude from that history any humanitarian advocacy that does not explicitly demand respect for the innate rights of human beings, we have a simple answer: Congo reform cannot have been about human rights, because none of its advocates wrote of the “human rights” of the people of the Congo. Yet the argument that convinced the British government to act against the administration of Belgium’s king Leopold II in his central African domain did ultimately rest on the principle that the Congo State was violating rights that colonized Africans must enjoy by virtue of their humanity. Moreover, in acting against Leopold, Britain’s Foreign Office relied on evidence of atrocity and indifference to human life that Casement collected and presented with a clear eye to making a case that would withstand legal challenge. The consul’s method, “meticulously documented and narrated testimony” based wherever possible on the direct accounts of the people affected, still dominates investigations of human rights claims more than a century later.1 His principal finding, of a “great reduction observable everywhere in native life,” relied on demographics as evidence of humanitarian catastrophe – a practice that finds present-day echoes in the study of population epidemiology.2 Both in substance and in process, therefore, Casement and the movement for Congo reform must have a place in the history of human rights. In this essay, I argue that in order to understand the contribution that the Congo reform movement made to the history of human rights, we must develop a new analytical approach that focuses on human rights advocacy as a practice of persuasion. This differs from an approach that traces the language of rights. One prominent example of a language-focused approach is Lynn Hunt’s argument that the history of human rights dates to the late eighteenth century, when, she says, the idea of claiming human rights



first gained political salience, that is, when human rights “came to make sense in societies where they had not done so previously.”3 It also differs from an approach that tracks the scope and scale of institutional organization on behalf of rights. Samuel Moyn’s contentious argument that human rights “as a powerful transnational ideal and movement” date from the United States of America in the 1970s – not the 1770s – is an example of this kind of an operational approach.4 Analyzing human rights advocacy as a practice of persuasion requires us to think about the substance of the rights the advocate claims on behalf of others, rather than the language used to describe them. We then look to the process by which advocates persuade decision-makers to act. It would have been outlandish, and ineffective, for advocates for Congo reform to claim that the human rights of Africans were being violated by Leopold. International law and European (and American) societies alike legitimized his brutality in the Congo, like that of the other European powers engaged in the Scramble for Africa, as a necessary part of “assuring to that vast continent the benefits of peace and civilization.”5 It was not enough either to stir public opinion to outrage at the atrocities committed in Leopold’s name, as did missionaries, the British and Foreign AntiSlavery Society, the Aborigines’ Protection Society, and the Congo Reform Association that journalist E. D. Morel founded with Casement’s help. Public outrage alone could not force the British government to act in this period when states considered sovereignty to be the exclusive preserve of “civilized” peoples and guarded it closely.6 The Foreign Office needed to know that it was on solid legal ground in pressing Leopold for change, and here Casement and Morel were instrumental. The essay begins with the evidence that Casement gathered and presented to the Foreign Office. Casement, a British consul, knew from his experience in Congo that to force change he needed to persuade his government, and through it other colonial powers, to look beyond the state’s apparently adequate legal protection of its indigenous population to the brutal reality on the ground. I then move from the facts to the law, exploring why the official British case against Leopold rested on rights to trade that were guaranteed by international law. The campaigners had to rely on a weak connection between free trade and humanitarian objectives so they could base their claim in the safest source of international law available: treaties. That, in turn, helped them create and maintain a united front and implicate Britain in the enforcement of those treaties. The third section examines why Leopold’s defense crumbled in the face of an international inquiry that verified the gap between laws on paper and facts on Congolese soil. I return in the conclusion to the idea of human rights advocacy as a practice of persuasion and suggest how this analysis might shine a new light on the history of human rights generally.

“Their lives were useless to them”: Roger Casement prepares the evidence When Roger Casement reported to the Foreign Office that he had returned from a journey of investigation into conditions on the Upper Congo, he was clearly proud of his work. His notes, he wrote, “constitute an extraordinary case for inquiry, seeing that I have been away from Stanley Pool only since the 2 July 1903, and in the regions where atrocities are very profitable not more than six weeks.”7 The consul’s accomplishment was undeniable. In this brief period, Casement covered over 1,600 miles, collecting evidence from Congolese people, European and American missionaries, company 58


employees, and Congo government officials he met along the way. Casement planned his trip so that it would retrace a path he had followed 16 years earlier. He could therefore complement the depositions he heard with his own recollections of conditions on the previous trip. His final report, together with the many dispatches, memoranda, and letters he wrote to share additional evidence with his colleagues in the Foreign Office, amount to careful, vivid documentation of how a European king had effectively enslaved the African population of an area eight times the size of his own country. Casement’s overwhelming impression of the Upper Congo River region was its depopulation. “The most striking change observed during my journey into the interior was the great reduction observable everywhere in native life. Communities I had formerly known as large and flourishing centres of population are to-day entirely gone, or … unrecognizable.” To explain the collapse of Congo’s population, the British consul


Concessions Ubangi R

Congo Independent State boundary Railway

Uele R Mong

ala R



200 Mls


300 Kms


Basankusu ga R ABIR Lulon Ekanaza Lulanga Baringa Coquilhatville Mar inga Bolenge Busira R R Ikoko Bikoro Lake Mantumba Montaka


Lake Leopold II Bolobo Chumbiri


ai R



Stanley Pool



go R



Boma Banana





go an Kw R





Figure 4.1 King Leopold II’s Independent Congo State.


Aruwimi R

ari R











Stanley Falls Lo





assigned “a prominent place” to sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis), a disease endemic to the Lower Congo that was “all too rapidly eating its way into the heart of Africa,” noting that the indigenous people themselves attributed “their alarming death-rate” in part to the disease. Crucially, though, Casement focused his investigation on the Congolese people’s own attribution – he thought “principally” – of “their rapid decrease in numbers to other causes as well.”8 What could trigger depopulation on a scale he estimated as 60 percent in less than two decades? In addition to disease, Casement heard about the emigration of entire villages, most often across the Congo River to the adjacent French colony, and the murders and mutilations of both living and dead bodies for which Congo was already infamous in Britain and other parts of Europe. He heard of women, including many who were pregnant and nursing, imprisoned as hostages to force their husbands to meet impossible quotas to deliver natural rubber, food and building materials to white men and their African intermediaries. He heard of children sold into slavery so that their villages could pay fines imposed because they had failed to meet those quotas. He saw ample evidence of slower forms of violence, as well, notably mass starvation. He noticed that few villagers had any livestock left with which to feed themselves; when he asked where all the sheep, goats, and fowl that he had noticed on his earlier trip had gone, villagers pointed to Congo’s colonial administration: “Bula Matadi [sic] has taken them.”9 Even kwanga, a staple food preparation based on cassava root, was in short supply. Everywhere he went, the consul discovered that the local people were required to deliver enormous quantities of it to the representatives of the State or its authorized companies, leaving little to be traded in local markets. The markets themselves were few and poor, and indigenous people did much less trading than in earlier times. In short, Roger Casement documented a humanitarian catastrophe consisting of an extraordinarily rapid population decline whose survivors were reduced to “lives [that] were useless to them.”10 At first glance, Casement’s report seems to be a grim travelogue. He notes the date he arrived in each place on his trajectory up the Congo, then compares his first impressions with what he had seen in the same district on his earlier voyage as an employee of the Sanford Exploring Expedition.11 He alludes to the conditions of his travel from place to place. He traveled from Matadi to Léopoldville on 5–6 June 1903 by way of the “excellently constructed” and “most efficient” railway through the “generally unproductive and … sterile” land of the cataract region. After a month at Léopoldville, though, he was reduced to begging passage on one of the few nongovernment steamships permitted to carry passengers. After another lengthy delay, Casement records having secured “a small steam-launch … for my private use” on which he continued his journey beyond Bolobo early in August.12 The report carefully documents the amount of time he spent in each town or village, noting when transportation difficulties prolonged his stay. It then summarizes the testimony he heard from the people in each place: missionaries, local chiefs and other villagers, and local agents for the State and the largely Belgian-owned companies the State permitted to operate in each place. A deeper look, however, shows that Casement took as much care in constructing his report as he had in planning his journey. He investigated and documented all the permutations of the economic system that Congo’s king-sovereign had implemented to make his investment profitable. At each stage of his report on a journey that, coincidentally or not, mirrored Marlow’s journey in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, Casement juxtaposes observed reality against the legal and institutional arrangements Leopold 60


used to insulate his system from the criticisms of Belgians and other Europeans.13 It was a system designed to extract maximum profit with minimum investment. The system forced Congo’s indigenous people to gather their most profitable commodities, ivory and rubber, and deliver them to chartered companies and other entities that were in turn required to hand over the lion’s share of the profit to the State and its sovereign. Casement’s journey took him to, or near, areas under the State’s direct governance as well as districts subject to all three of the major systems of land ownership and exploitation to be found in Congo: the Domaine de la Couronne, personally owned by Leopold, and operated for his direct profit; the Domaine Privé, or state-owned lands, from which rubber was extracted by partially state-owned companies operating under concession (in this case, the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company known as ABIR); and a region “regarded as one of the free-trading districts wherein no exclusive right to the products of the soil is recognized,” and yet where a single private company, the La Lulonga Company, operated the same type of extraction system that the king’s own forces and the concession companies did. Casement even observed conditions on a plantation, one of the few in existence despite Leopold’s frequent promises to turn his Congolese possession to more long-term productive use.14 Though Casement’s report summarizes the legal distinctions among these exploitation models, in practice he found little to differentiate them. He was not able to learn much about the Domaine de la Couronne directly, but he did take evidence from a large number of Basengili people who had fled their own lands near Lac Léopold II, in the king’s personal domain. He interviewed several groups of these “industrious blacksmiths and brass-workers,” and heard them explain that they had left because they had endured such ill-treatment at the hands of the Government officials and the Government soldiers in their own country that life had become intolerable, that nothing had remained for them at home but to be killed for failure to bring in a certain amount of rubber or to die from starvation or exposure in their attempts to satisfy the demands made upon them. Dubious at first, Casement sought and received confirmation from other Basengili that he met two days’ journey further up the river. Their stories were also confirmed by a missionary, A. E. Scrivener, who embarked on a fact-finding expedition of his own and who reported his own observations as well as the statements of the “present Government officer in charge of the district.”15 Casement heard versions of the Basengili story wherever he went. Whatever industry or trade the Congolese had carried on before the advent of the Congo State, with its force publique (military-cum-police) and private companies, local people were now spending all their energies on supplying the invaders with food, supplies, and marketable commodities (mostly rubber, and gum-copal where the rubber had been tapped out or had never been plentiful). Europe counted the elimination of the Congolese trade in slaves as a humanitarian advance in itself, and Casement was careful to give credit to the ICS for reducing – though not eliminating – this practice. Casement argued, though, that its replacement could not really be considered trade, since the locals could not market what they harvested: they had to turn these products over for the exclusive use and profit of the local company and through it, the state. Casement also found that any differences in the quality of native life in the Domaine de la Couronne, the Domaine Privé, and the so-called free-trade zone were of degree, 61


not kind, despite divergences in the applicable laws. The law specified rates of pay for goods delivered, both for sustenance and for the export market. In practice, when indigenous gatherers were paid, it was either with brass rods, a currency whose length and hence value European officials could easily manipulate from one district to the next, or in substitute goods such as cloth that were either largely worthless to the local people or, when they were useful, destroyed the local market by flooding it.16 The ABIR, as a concession company in the Domaine Privé, enjoyed “droits de police” (the right to employ armed men) whereas the La Lulonga Company legally did not. In practice, both firms employed and armed “sentinels” or “forest guards” who were Africans, usually from distant parts of Congo, charged with enforcing the delivery quotas by any means necessary. These guards were not responsible for all the murder, mutilation, hostagetaking, flogging, and other excesses of force that took place. Casement heard about plenty of brutality meted out directly by white officials and traders, both on his journey and in his regular work as British consul at Boma. The sentinels, however, were held responsible for ensuring that deliveries met the quotas set by white supervisors, and those supervisors showed little or no interest in constraining the means by which the sentinels achieved their task. In a passage that reads like the record of a cross-examination, the report explains how Casement tried and failed to elicit a coherent explanation of the system from the ABIR’s local employees. To their claim that concession company employees had to be armed to protect European establishments, Casement objected by asking why so many armed guards were stationed in native villages and acted aggressively rather than defensively. They answered that this was necessary in order to enforce the collection of “impositions” or taxes that were required by law. This made no sense either, for the official statistics recorded what was being collected as the “outcome of commercial dealings with the natives” – profit for the companies, not taxes destined for government coffers. Casement put to the ABIR’s representatives the explanation he had heard from the Congolese: the sentries were armed to force the people to produce commodities for the companies’ benefit. Again, the company men denied this. All they were doing was trading with the indigenous Congolese, since after all they did pay for the goods they delivered. In that case, said Casement, are you not paying the Congolese for goods you already own, since the State, which by decree owned the soil and its produce, had turned over that ownership to the concession company? Again, this was not correct: they were only paying the Africans for their labor to collect “our produce on our land.” If so, said Casement, where was the contract of employment? No contract was required, they answered, because Congolese were performing these services “as a public duty required of [them] by [their] Government.”17 The laborer was free, living on his own land, in effect paying his taxes by working to deliver the company’s commodities from its land. Casement tried again: did this not, in effect, mean that the company owned both land and laborer? Again, that was not correct: the concession company did not own its poorly paid, compelled labor force. As Casement noted, “there was not an explanation offered to me that was not at once contradicted by the next.”18 It all added up to an economic system based on the forced labor of local people, subject to unpredictable and often onerous demands in the best cases, and to lethal violence in the worst. ABIR employees attempted to justify it as “forced labour conceived in the true interest of the native, who, if not controlled in this way, would spend his days in idleness, unprofitable to himself and the general community.” But the 62


consequences of this system – at least from the perspective of Casement, the missionaries, and the Congolese they interviewed – were so starkly at odds with the interest of the natives that Casement summed up the companies’ explanations as “true alternatives of excuse … so obviously untrue, that they could not be admitted as having any real relation to the things which came before me.”19 Writing to Henry Farnall, head of the Foreign Office’s African department, Casement summed up his thesis about what was responsible for the collapse of Congo’s indigenous population. It stemmed from “disease, bad government, and the dreadful excesses of the past (which I find on closer view were minimized [by company and state officials]).”20 The key to his argument was, in his phrase, bad government. To improve its government, the Independent Congo State would have to be forced to adopt the “changed measures, entirely changed” Casement thought necessary to avoid further destruction. But how were the concerned citizens of one sovereign state to convince a sovereign government to change its ways?

“Measures … to abate the evils prevalent in that state”: framing the law We need to consider the international legal framework for the Scramble generally and for Leopold’s claim to the Congo in particular in order to understand how crucial Casement’s report was to the process of persuading the British Foreign Office to translate growing public outrage into effective, albeit cautious, diplomatic action. That framework was unusual in many respects. For one thing, it was explicit. It consisted of two multilateral treaties, signed in Berlin in 1885 and Brussels in 1890, and the interpretation that a small group of international jurists accorded them. For another thing, the primary objective of these treaties was to prevent clashes over African soil from developing into wars in Europe. The more usual route was to resolve imperial claims in the wake of a war between European powers. A third unusual feature was the explicitly humanitarian justification the signatories attached to their appropriation of African land – a cause they espoused without input from the people of Africa themselves. The challenge for Congo reformers was to convince the Foreign Office that this framework of international law permitted a signatory to invoke this humanitarian language to protect the rights of people whom neither the treaties nor jurists recognized as being civilized and therefore able to invoke the law on their own behalf. Reformers scored a major victory when they forced the House of Commons to debate the Congo issue on 20 May 1903. Calling on the government to make good on the boast of this country, not only that our own native subjects were governed on principles of justice, but that, ever since the days of Wilberforce, England had been the leader in all movements on behalf of the backward races of the earth, opposition M. P. Herbert Samuel succeeded in getting the House to ask the government “to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State.”21 The next victory was that the Foreign Office authorized Casement’s investigation. The foreign secretary Marquess of Lansdowne proceeded to the next step after that in 63


early August 1903. Even as his consul Casement was taking evidence near Lake Mantumba, Lansdowne wrote a dispatch to Britain’s ambassadors in the capitals of the other states that had signed the Berlin Act, asking them to forward it to the local minister of foreign affairs. Lansdowne’s dispatch began with an almost apologetic explanation of this extraordinary intervention. Philanthropic societies, commercial bodies, the public press, and “despatches from His Majesty’s consuls” had “repeatedly” called attention over the past several years to “alleged cases of ill-treatment of natives and … the existence of trade monopolies in the Independent State of the Congo.” Although the government would not take a position on the extent to which the accusations were true, they were so widely believed “that it is no longer possible to ignore them.” The question has now arisen whether the Congo State can be considered to have fulfilled the special pledges, given under the Berlin Act, to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for their moral and material advancement. Thus, he said, Britain had decided “the time has come when the Powers parties to the Berlin Act should consider whether the system of trade now prevailing in the Independent State is in harmony with the provisions of the Act.”22 Lansdowne’s dispatch recounted many of the allegations made in the Commons debate.23 Yet it was a far cry from Samuel’s appeal for humanitarian action in Britain’s tradition of antislavery diplomacy. Lansdowne distinguished between “isolated acts of cruelty committed by individuals, whether in the service of the State or not, and a system of administration involving and accompanied by systematic cruelty or oppression.” The most serious of the allegations amounted to the latter accusation – what Casement would call “bad government.” However, the only question the foreign secretary was prepared to bring to Britain’s fellow signatories was that of free trade: whether the system of making grants of vast areas of territory is permissible under the [Berlin] Act if the effect of such grants is in practice to create a monopoly of trade by excluding all persons other than the concession-holder from trading with the natives in that area. Lansdowne ignored Samuel’s appeal for humanitarian intervention, which would have risked opening Britain’s treatment of its own subjects to international scrutiny. Instead, the foreign secretary proposed to discuss at the international level only whether Congo was guilty of violating the Berlin Act by creating trade monopolies. Lansdowne’s decision to channel public sentiment about Congo’s atrocities into a narrower discussion of trade law reflected the Foreign Office’s hesitation about stepping into a new area of diplomacy: non-military humanitarian intervention in a sovereign state. The connection between free trade and humanitarian objectives might have been weak, but it did permit the Congo State’s opponents to frame their objections broadly enough to achieve several vital purposes. First, it offered a means of uniting what might otherwise have been disparate voices. Colonialism’s often divergent missions of Christianity, commerce and civilization could join here in a single appeal, voiced by missionaries, philanthropists, chambers of commerce, and, crucially, the British government itself. Second, making the case that Congo’s atrocities arose naturally from its economic 64


system allowed the campaigners to ground their appeal in positive, treaty-based international law. This was an easier case to make than one relying on more ambiguous ideas about the “natural” law of nations and peoples, let alone ideas justifying state action on the basis of human sympathy for strangers. Third, it implicated the British government as a signatory of the Berlin and Brussels treaties. Indeed, Britain was the prime mover behind the Brussels treaty, and it was that treaty which had cemented the logic that gave Leopold free rein in Congo in the interests of Africa’s peoples.24 Without a united front, a strong basis in positive international law, and the ability to rouse Britain’s government to action, humanitarian sentiment could not have achieved what it did. Leopold’s counterattack proved that all three elements were necessary. The king’s message came through the usual diplomatic channel: Edmund van Eetvelde, whom the king had made a baron for his long and faithful service to the Congo State, met with the United Kingdom’s minister to Belgium, Sir E. Constantine Phipps, early in February 1904. Phipps believed that van Eetvelde was using Leopold’s own “very uncompromising” language to convey the king’s displeasure. The baron began his tirade with its only new element: a complaint about Casement’s journey, which he said had had the objective of “stirring up the natives to opposition against the organized Government or Administration,” and that thus elevated Congo’s complaint to the highest level as “an unheardof point of departure in the history of international relations with a friendly State.” Van Eetvelde then suggested that Britain’s government was losing control to domestic radicals: the campaign against the Congo was the work of Protestant missionaries seeking to have Britain expropriate the Belgian king’s territory, and “the Liverpool merchants who had found their pecuniary interests injured by the comprehensive scheme of exploitation organized in the interest of civilization by the Sovereign.” Even a unified Britain would not succeed in raising other Berlin signatories against Congo’s administration, warned van Eetvelde. In any case, “no foreign intervention was necessary to make the Congo government recognize its obligations towards humanity, or could induce it to alter the system which it was fully justified in pursuing.”25 Phipps addressed the first necessary element of the campaign – unity – as he defended his government’s motives against van Eetvelde’s implication that it was trying to gain the other powers’ sanction for a British takeover by escalating the matter to the international level. Members of his government “were animated by no covert aims whatever,” he protested: [T]heir action had been prompted by public opinion, to which expression had been given in the House of Commons, and which could not be resisted in a constitutional country. They were simply desirous that the conditions under which the Congo régime had been inaugurated should be maintained to the benefit of the natives under the Administration. Casement’s trip was no violation of international relations, either. The consul had made no secret of his mission, Phipps had no doubt the ICS would avail itself of every means of refuting “any unfair statements” the consul might make, and in any case, it was “an unquestionable fact” that Casement “had been in a position to glean serious evidence of abuses.”26 Phipps did not engage van Eetvelde on the substance of the ICS’ self-defense: that it was fully justified in law and in the interests of civilization in operating its 65


“comprehensive scheme of exploitation.” The question here was whether, to what extent, and how the sovereignty of the ICS was limited by the terms of the Berlin and Brussels treaties. Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka created an indelible image of the European colonial powers at the 1884–5 Berlin Conference acting like “demented tailors” as they cut up and stitched the African continent among themselves. Yet in reality the Conference did create a set of rules. These were intended to prevent European disputes about African territory from escalating into war in Europe.27 Leopold’s sovereignty over the Congo basin came to be recognized through a “side event” to the Conference: a series of bilateral agreements, beginning with the United States even before the Conference opened, and followed by other powers gathered in Berlin.28 These side agreements left international jurists and Foreign Office officials alike in some doubt as to whether the Independent Congo State was actually “called into existence” by the international treaty and therefore, implicitly, capable of being disbanded by the parties to the same treaty.29 Either way, though, the new State had adhered to the treaty upon its creation in July 1885, and claimed that all its laws were consistent with its international obligations. Now the issue was whether or not this was true. The Berlin Act set out fundamental principles that should apply to the river and the territory that surrounded it, in the interests, according to its preamble, of “regulat[ing] the conditions most favourable to the development of trade and civilization in certain regions of Africa.” Its first article defined the basin and stated bluntly: “The trade of all nations shall enjoy complete freedom” within it. Article V was equally unequivocal: “No Power which exercises or shall exercise sovereign rights in the above-mentioned regions shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade.” The powers also declared the territories of the Congo basin to be subject to the rules governing neutrality, explicitly “in order to give a new guarantee of security to trade and industry, and to encourage, by the maintenance of peace, the development of civilization” in those lands. By contrast, the powers used vague language to define the obligations of the Congo basin’s new governors towards the people already living in the area. They bound themselves “to watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being, and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the slave trade.” They would also “protect and favour” institutions “which aim at … bringing home to [the natives] the blessings of civilization.”30 The second treaty, the Brussels Act, seemed to offer more precise direction to colonial powers advancing the humanitarian objective of introducing “civilization” throughout the interior of Africa. In fact, it resulted in Leopold gaining even more latitude in the Congo State. The preamble of the Brussels Act describes a treaty that seeks ways to achieve international purposes that have already been agreed upon: Equally animated by the firm intention of putting an end to the crimes and devastations engendered by the traffic in African slaves, of effectively protecting the aboriginal populations of Africa, and of assuring to that vast continent the benefits of peace and civilization; Wishing to give a fresh sanction to the decisions already taken in the same sense and at different periods by the Powers; to complete the results obtained by them; and to draw up a collection of measures guaranteeing the accomplishment of the work which is the object of their common solicitude… 66


The “collection of measures” amounted, in effect, to European cooperation in the military conquest of the rest of the continent. The treaty justified the instruments of European colonial rule – “administrative, judicial, religious, and military services,” fortified stations in the interior to protect against and repress “manhunts,” roads, railways, steamers on waterways supported by fortified stations, telegraph lines, expeditions and flying columns, and restrictions on the import of firearms – as means by which to end a slave trade focused on the Indian Ocean and Red Sea in which European traders no longer played a significant role. The treaty also justified fortified stations as means to protect indigenous people and “raise them to civilization” and to “give aid and protection to commercial undertakings,” “watch over their legality,” and facilitate “the foundation of permanent centres of cultivation and of commercial establishments.” There is no further explicit reference to commerce in the Brussels Act.31 The treaty took it as given that free trade would play a “civilizing” role. The international community was signaling its support for the idea that whatever Leopold’s forces did in Congo, they did in the name of civilization. Yet international lawyers trying to make sense of the treaties were not completely confident about this assumption. One controversial issue was whether a “civilizing” colonial power, asserting territorial sovereignty over African land on the basis of the positive law the treaties contained, really extinguished all the pre-existing rights of the land’s inhabitants, including those considered to be part of “natural” international law. In 1888, members of the Institute of International Law (Institut de Droit International, IDI) debated whether to endorse the proposal that “all regions, whether or not they are inhabited, be regarded as territorium nullius.” It rejected it by a narrow margin. The IDI concluded that the proposal would give European sovereigns arbitrary powers over private property. True, the lawyers were concerned with the limits of European sovereignty, not the rights of Africans. Nevertheless, this debate revealed a narrow gap in the wall of international law justifying their exploitation of Africa that the signatories of Berlin and Brussels had been building.32 That narrow gap was the idea that Africans could not arbitrarily be deprived of their property rights in their land, and it remained open despite Leopold’s best efforts to seal it up.33 When the House of Commons debate forced the British government to take up the issue in 1903, John Westlake, Britain’s foremost authority on international law, wrote to the Foreign Office on the issue of whether the ICS was violating the Berlin Act’s prohibition against monopolies. Westlake conceded that indigenous Congolese might enjoy some kind of rights that were likely being violated by Leopold’s regime. Like France, which operated a similar system of exploitation across the Congo River, the ICS defended its operations by claiming the undisputed right which a State has to make a grant of land … or to assume for itself the private property in land within its territory. This being done, the rubber produced becomes private property along with the land which produces it, and its sale by the owner is no more a monopoly than the sale of anything else that one may own. However, the sheer scale of the Congo State’s appropriation of land and produce seemed abnormal: “one feels that the stipulation against monopolies has been infringed in spirit.” What was different? “It has occurred to me,” said Westlake, “that 67


a sufficient distinction might possibly be found in the rights of the natives, which would have to be bought out or compensated in a State grant of land, but which cannot have been sufficiently considered in giving such rights.” The crux of his argument was this: [I]t may be said that the conditions under which European sovereignty was acquired [over Congo] precluded any restriction of the freedom of that trade with the natives, at least with the freedom of trade with each native person or tribe, for the rubber produced on land to be fairly deemed to belong to that person or tribe. And the argument would be completed by saying that what has been done has been a mere fizzle for obscuring that issue. Westlake would not commit himself to an opinion as to how the International Court of Arbitration might rule on such an argument. However, he thought that a claim founded on the spirit of the Berlin Act would likely do better in an international court than in a domestic one. An international court could draw upon convention, which was in turn based on ideas about natural law, to redress Congo’s “abnormal” and extreme interpretation of the treaties, because they extinguished indigenous people’s natural rights to trade.34 This was the idea that would permit Britain to object to the legality of Leopold’s “comprehensive scheme of exploitation.” If the Berlin Act did anything, it decreed that the Congo basin, as defined, should be a free trade zone. And if the rationale enunciated in both the Berlin and Brussels Acts of protecting and improving the lives of Congo’s indigenous people meant anything, surely those rights to trade freely must extend to them, too. When Lansdowne wrote to the other Berlin signatories to solicit their suggestions about how to deal with the Congo, he sought to square the circle of sovereign and indigenous rights: His Majesty’s Government in no way deny either that the State has the right to partition the State lands among bona fide occupants, or that the natives will, as the land is so divided out among bona fide occupants, lose their right of roaming over it and collecting the natural fruits which it produces; but His Majesty’s Government maintain that until unoccupied land is reduced into individual occupation, and so long as the produce can only be collected by the native, the native should be free to dispose of that produce as he pleases [emphasis added].35 At a time when Britain, France and Germany were enthusiastically competing for rights of territorial sovereignty over African land, joining older imperial powers such as Portugal and Spain, this was as far as the Foreign Office could go. The unusual circumstance that positive international law – treaties – authorized Leopold’s operations in Congo created the opening for Lansdowne to ask “whether the system of trade now prevailing in the Independent State is in harmony with the provisions of the [Berlin] Act.” The argument that that system was violating indigenous rights helped Britain to weld the disparate components of the public outcry against the Congo atrocities into a unified front that, based in positive international law, enabled one or more signatories to a treaty to call into question the actions of another. 68


Confronting the evidence: Leopold’s international inquiry By the time the British Foreign Office released an edited version of Roger Casement’s report to the public and to the ministers of foreign affairs of the co-signatories of the Berlin Act in early 1904, apologists for Leopold’s Independent Congo State had their defense well rehearsed. Edmund van Eetvelde’s conversation with Phipps was just the beginning of the backlash against the British consul. The growing unanimity in Belgium in favor of its king’s African ventures seemed to make the attack even bolder than usual.36 The ICS issued a press communiqué on 15 February 1904 that attacked Casement’s report as having been “conceived in the least benevolent spirit” and impugning Casement’s findings as “based in large part upon the unverified allegations of natives.”37 A few weeks later, van Eetvelde expanded on these themes, now alleging that Casement’s evidence was unreliable because it was based on the testimony of people he called “unreasoning beings” whom Casement had stirred up against the government. In any case, nothing about the administration of Congo was out of line with what Britain itself was doing in the parts of Africa that it controlled.38 Buried in the Congo State’s counterattack was a key concession: Casement’s evidence was sufficiently worrisome that the Congo had decided to call its own inquiry to counter it. The Foreign Office now focused on the process through which the Congo State was proposing to defend its record. In his response to the State’s attack on Casement, Lansdowne complimented the ICS on its decision to undertake “a searching and impartial inquiry” into the allegations. He also pushed for measures to strengthen the inquiry’s independence. Lansdowne refused Congo’s request for the particulars on the basis of Casement’s view that it was not safe to disclose his full report. Although Britain was willing to help the proposed inquiry, it would identify Casement’s witnesses only on condition that the Congo Government … accept full responsibility for the manner in which the information thus furnished is used [and] communicate to His Majesty’s Government the measures which they are prepared to adopt and enforce in order to protect the witnesses, both European and native, from any violence or acts of retaliation on the part of those against whom they have given evidence.39 In a second response Lansdowne returned to these themes and went further: Britain would only disclose “all the information [it possessed] respecting the position of affairs in the Congo” to an inquiry “composed of members of well-established reputation and in part, at least, of persons unconnected with the Congo State.”40 The ICS caviled. Belgium’s minister of foreign affairs, Paul de Favereau, told Phipps that the king would never agree to “a commission in which there should be foreign officials,” seeing it as “an abdication of sovereign rights,” but Leopold surprised them by giving in.41 The king named a Commission of Inquiry composed of Edmond Janssens, advocate-general of the Brussels Court of Appeal; Giacomo Nisco, president of Congo’s court of appeal at Boma; and a Swiss magistrate, Edmond de Schumacher. The Commission began hearing evidence in Congo in November 1904 and delivered its report the next autumn. As Phipps summarized the report, “[i]n spite of the reserved and dignified tone which pervades the whole Report, it contains the most scathing criticisms of the policy pursued in the Congo State.” The three jurists disputed Casement’s evidence on



two points. First, it found that mutilation had been “voluntarily inflicted on living natives” in only two cases. Second, with respect to depopulation, it found only “smallpox and sleeping sickness” to be unequivocal primary causes. “The causes put forward by the missionaries [sic] are declared to be difficult to establish, and to be secondary ones,” Phipps noted. Otherwise, Leopold’s Commission of Inquiry vindicated the British consul and even went further than Casement did in some important respects. On the fundamental legal question of the impact of Congo’s economic system on indigenous rights, Phipps ably summarized the Commission of Inquiry report: Whilst not contesting the legality of the appropriation by the State of vacant lands, it is pointed out that in practice the State has monopolized the entire fruits of the soil, and has interfered with the whole evolution of native existence. It has failed to give a liberal and wide interpretation to [its own] Laws of 1885 and 1886, which conferred on the native population the free enjoyment of the zones of territory adjoining their huts under the authority of the Chiefs, enabling them to trade in the produce of such zones. This Law has become a dead letter.42 The report of the Commission of Inquiry removed the last vestiges of credibility from the ICS’ argument that its system was contributing to the “civilization” of Congo’s people. Leopold’s legalistic defense collapsed in the face of irrefutable evidence. However, it would take another three years before Leopold II turned over his Independent Congo State to the control of democratic Belgium, a move that the king’s domestic critics had been advocating since at least 1892. It would take a further four years – until 1913 – before Britain would officially recognize the move, declaring itself to be satisfied that the transfer of the Congo to Belgium has been attended by the happiest results, both as regards the condition of the natives in which all the [Berlin] Powers have taken so warm an interest, and as regards the security to be enjoyed by British subjects in the exercise of their commercial and other rights.43

Conclusions: human rights advocacy as a practice of persuasion The British push to reform Leopold’s Congo was an international intervention motivated by outrage at the human cost of the Belgian king’s rapacity and conducted by diplomatic means. It was mounted on behalf of people whom international politics and international law conspired to deprive of a voice as well as all material means of defending themselves. The success of the Congo reform movement turned on its successful assertion that even those whom international law treated as uncivilized enjoyed some substantive rights. To the Foreign Office, as well as to the international jurists who had articulated their unease with the implications of an international law that governed only the so-called civilized and in effect protected even their most inhumane behavior, what mattered was that the people of the Congo retained some rights to their land and its products. A much broader concern rested on those narrow rights, however: that African subjects of colonial rule must be able to benefit from what civilization was supposed to bring them, including the 70


“free” trade and “free” labor with which Britain justified its own colonial adventures to domestic audiences and co-signatories of international treaties alike.44 This essay has attended closely to how reformers used the law that was available to them to halt a humanitarian catastrophe. It shows us that Congo reform belongs to the history of human rights, and also suggests a new way to identify links in that history: by tracing efforts to persuade people with power that what was at stake in a situation was no more nor less than the right not to be made a victim. I suggest that this practice of persuasion is a recurring characteristic of human rights advocacy. In labeling Casement and Morel’s effort on behalf of the rights of the Congolese a practice of persuasion, I draw from two insights. The first relates to how advocates must present the evidence they gather. Lora Wildenthal has identified the essence of human rights in the post-1948 period: they are “ahistorical and decontextualized.” To assert a human right is to “persuade others to see [the] situation in isolation from its historical context and usual justifications.”45 Yet to succeed in this act of persuasion, the advocate needs to understand that context – and how to get beyond it to undermine those “usual justifications.” This is exactly what Casement did by showing the powers that “where a law beneficial to a [Congo] native comes into conflict to-day with the so-called interests of the State, i.e., the rubber or ivory return of a given district, neither law nor native stand a chance.”46 The second insight concerns the nature of law and, in particular, the task the advocate takes on when making the argument that the law protects people whom those behind that law would rather ignore. Duncan Kennedy once observed that “there is a lot more play in the [legal] system than lawyers and judges pretend there is” – and, by extension, than most historians and students of history and law believe there to be. Kennedy defines legal argument as “the process of creating the field of law through restatement rather than rule application.”47 Using legal rights to trade as the opening through which to advocate for humane treatment of Congo’s people was just such a process. In providing the evidence to flesh out Westlake’s feeling that the law “was being violated in spirit,” Casement’s report supported an argument to restate the law in a way that could protect the natural rights of Congo’s indigenous people. As these two insights suggest, there is more to the history of human rights than a series of ideas that accumulate to produce our present-day understanding of what people can claim as inherent in their humanity. There is also something more than a history of substantive international or domestic law, whether lawyers accept that law as precedent or consider it irrelevant or inapplicable. Both approaches suggest a teleology that is easily disproven. The history of both human rights and humanitarian intervention is paradoxical: although initiatives on behalf of others are “fragmentary and conditional,” our records of them also show their “persistence … over a very long time.”48 Moreover, both of these approaches focus on ideas and so can overlook the actors involved – the people whose rights were violated, the people who took up that cause and framed it in a persuasive way, and the people who finally convinced themselves to press the advantage of the power they possessed for the benefit of others. Thinking about human rights activism as a practice of persuasion focuses on those actors. In thinking about who they were, what they did, and why it worked, we can perhaps begin to see the flaws in our assumptions about how best to intervene on behalf of others. We noted at the outset, for instance, that human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) still practice Casement’s method today. Those who observe that the reality 71


of persecution reveals how far the theory and rhetoric of protection fall short are still considered more credible if they are impartial and secular, as Casement tried to be. They still focus on documenting the gap between those who used to live in a place, and how, and those who live there after genocide, ethnic cleansing, or other crime against humanity has taken place. Advocates must still be able to raise popular outrage and compassion about how people are being treated, and find a way to channel that compassion into a case that those people are being deprived of a specific, often much narrower, right that they should enjoy. To effect change in another place, advocates still rely on the idea that Congo reformers pioneered, that the international community bears some responsibility to police its members’ actions even inside those members’ own jurisdictions. Thinking about Congo reform as a practice of persuasion also helps us to recognize its limitations. Casement’s own status played a central role in authenticating his report. He was a European, a man, and a trained, professional representative of the diplomatic service of Europe’s foremost power. Because of his status, it was harder for the ICS’ apologists to dismiss the evidence he gathered and presented as the exaggerations of a troublemaker.49 Status, and the perception that the fact-finder must be impartial (and international) to be believed, also made it possible for jurists on the Commission of Inquiry called by Leopold himself to uphold Casement’s evidence. The status of the evidence-gatherer and advocate still matters, more than a century after Casement’s death. The international community still finds it too easy to dismiss survivors’ testimony as the word of the “unreasoning beings” that Belgian Baron Edmund van Eetvelde thought them to be. The International Criminal Court transgresses this expectation by giving victims their day in court. It is also important to be aware of prejudices like the “standard of civilization.” In recent years, African leaders in the dock have claimed that the Court is still imposing that “standard of civilization” on them long after the formal colonialism of the Berlin and Brussels Act has ended. The practice of persuasion must rely on, interact with, and sometimes challenge those prejudices. Persuasion is at the center of human rights advocacy. It is vital to capture crucial aspects of how the process works so that advocates can continue to persuade in even the most challenging environments and times.

Notes 1 Steven L. B. Jensen and Roland Burke, “From the Normative to the Transnational: Methods in the Study of Human Rights History,” in Bård-Anders Andreassen, Hans-Otto Sano, and Siobhán McInerny-Langford (eds.) Research Methods in Human Rights: A Handbook, Cheltenham, MA: Edward Elgar, 2017, p. 126. 2 Roger D. Casement, “The Congo Report,” in Séamas Ó Síocháin and Michael O’Sullivan (eds.) The Eyes of Another Race: Roger Casement’s Congo Report and 1903 Diary, Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2003, pp. 49–50. I am indebted to Courtland Robinson for connecting Casement’s methodology to the current practice of population epidemiology. 3 Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History, New York: Norton, 2007; Hunt, “Response to Viewpoint: The Long and the Short of the History of Human Rights,” Past & Present, 2016, no. 233, 329. 4 Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010, and Samuel Moyn, Human Rights and the Uses of History, London: Verso, 2014. 5 “General Act of the Brussels Conference relative to the African Slave Trade, etc. Signed at Brussels, 2 July 1890,” reproduced in Sir Edward Hertslet et al., The Map of Africa by Treaty,




7 8 9

10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23

24 25 26 27 28

29 30

2nd rev. ed., London: HMSO, 1896, p. 49 (Preamble). The term “Scramble” was coined by a columnist for The Times of London. The story of Leopold’s Congo, and of the public outrage and action it evoked in Britain, has been told many times. See, in particular, Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998; Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers, E. D. Morel’s History of the Congo Reform Movement, Oxford: Clarendon, 1968; and Dean Pavlakis, British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896–1913, London and New York: Routledge, 2016. The National Archives (London), Foreign Office (TNA FO) 403/338, Casement to Secretary of State (Lansdowne), 15–16 September 1903, “No. 34, Africa.” Casement, “The Congo Report,” pp. 49–50. TNA FO 403/351, Casement to Lansdowne, 19 January 1904. On Bula Matari, which means “he who crushes rocks,” as a local nickname for the Congo’s colonial administration see for instance Crawford Young, “Constructing Bula Matari,” in Crawford Young, The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994, pp. 77–140. Casement, “Report,” p. 84. Séamas Ó Síocháin and Michael O’Sullivan, “Introduction,” in Ó Síocháin and O’Sullivan, The Eyes of Another Race, p. 8. Casement, “Report,” pp. 50, 63. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was first published in serial form in 1899 and as a book in 1902. Casement, “Report,” pp. 90, 64. Casement, “Report,” pp. 62–3. Casement, “Report,” p. 52. Casement, “Report,” pp. 91–2. Casement, “Report,” p. 92. Casement, “Report,” pp. 91–2. TNA FO 403/338, Casement to Farnall, 5 August 1903. On some of the “dreadful excesses” to which Casement refers, and how both the Congo State and Britain played them down in the 1890s, see Mairi S. MacDonald, “Lord Vivian’s Tears: The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Intervention,” in Fabian Klose (ed.) The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas and Practice from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 121–41. Herbert Samuel, House of Commons Debates, 20 May 1903, vol. 122, cols. 1289–332. TNA FO 403/338, Lansdowne to Monson et al., 8 August 1903. Many of the allegations were drawn from a pamphlet published by E. D. Morel called “The British Case Against the Congo.” On British antislavery, see Richard Huzzey, Freedom Burning: Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012, and Suzanne Miers, Britain and the Ending of the Slave Trade, London: Longman, 1975. On Britain’s role in bringing about the Brussels Conference, see MacDonald, “Lord Vivian’s Tears.” TNA FO 443/351, Phipps to Lansdowne, “No. 7, Africa Confidential,” 5 February 1904. TNA FO 443/351, Phipps to Lansdowne, “No. 7, Africa Confidential,” 5 February 1904. Wole Soyinka, 15 May 1994, quoted in Dakas C. J. Dakas, “The Role of International Law in the Colonization of Africa: A Review in Light of Recent Calls for Re-Colonization,” African Yearbook of International Law, 1999, vol. 7, 105. Matthew Craven, “Between Law and History: The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 and the Logic of Free Trade,” London Review of International Law, 2015, vol. 3, no. 1, 32; Wm. Roger Louis, “The Berlin Congo Conference and the (non-)Partition of Africa, 1884–1885,” in Wm. Roger Louis, Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez and Decolonization, London: I. B. Tauris, 2006, pp. 75–126. Compare these two memoranda: TNA FO 403/351, Villiers memorandum, 6 June 1904 and FO 403/338, Atkinson memorandum, 28 December 1903. “General Act of the Conference of Berlin, relative to the Development of Trade and Civilization in Africa; the free Navigation of the Rivers Congo, Niger, &c.; the Suppression of the Slave Trade by Sea and Land; the occupation of Territory on the African Coasts, &c. Signed



31 32


34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

43 44

45 46 47

48 49

at Berlin, 26 February 1885,” reproduced in Hertslet et al., The Map of Africa by Treaty, pp. 468–87, the “Berlin Act,” Articles I, V, X, and VI. “General Act of the Brussels Conference relative to the African Slave Trade, etc. Signed at Brussels, 2 July 1890,” reproduced in Sir Edward Hertslet et al., The Map of Africa by Treaty, pp. 48–87; preamble at 49. Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 137–40; Andrew Fitzmaurice, “Liberalism and Empire in Nineteenth-Century International Law,” American Historical Review, 2012, vol. 117, no. 1, 130–3; Fitzmaurice, Sovereignty, Property and Empire, 1500–1800, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 271–300. Members of the IDI continued to debate the issues in journals, notably the Revue de Droit International et de legislation comparée and the Annuaire de l’Institut de droit international. French jurist Charles Salomon stated the case at length in L’Occupation des terres sans maîtres: Étude de droit international, Paris: A. Giard, 1889. The debate erupted in 1892 in Brussels when Leopold II appropriated most of Congo’s land as the ICS’ private domain. The king won the political contest, but failed to extinguish the legal objection. TNA FO 403/338, Westlake to Foreign Office, 26 June 1903. TNA FO 403/338, Lansdowne to Monson et al., 8 August 1903. For instance, Phipps noted a July 1903 debate about Congo in Belgium’s parliament, where in response to growing criticism from abroad “the country has rallied round the Sovereign” and his Congo policy. TNA FO 403/338, Phipps to Lansdowne, 4 July 1903. TNA FO 403/351, Phipps to Lansdowne, 15 February 1904. TNA FO 403/351, Phipps to Lansdowne, 5 February 1903; “Notes on the Report of Mr. Casement, Consul of His Britannic Majesty, of the 11 December 1903,” 12 March 1904. TNA FO 403/351, Lansdowne to Phipps, “No. 52 Africa,” 19 April 1904. TNA FO 403/351, Lansdowne to Phipps, “No. 72 Africa,” 6 June 1904. TNA FO 403/351, Phipps to Lansdowne, “No. 68 Africa,” 11 June 1904. Bulletin officiel de l’État Indépendant du Congo, no. 9–10, 1905, “Rapport au Roi-Souverain.” Online. Available (accessed 5 January 2019); TNA FO 403/364, Phipps to Lansdowne, “No. 102 Africa,” 7 November 1905. TNA FO 403/443, Sir Edward Grey to Count de Lalaing, 27 June 1913. On the connections among free trade, free labor, and colonial rule, see Huzzey, Freedom Burning. On the centrality of antislavery to Britain’s self-image as a just imperial power, see Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Lora Wildenthal, “Rudolf Laun and the Human Rights of Germans in Occupied and Early West Germany,” in Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (ed.) Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 125. TNA FO 403/304, Casement to Gosselin, 30 September 1900. Duncan Kennedy, “Are Lawyers Really Necessary?” Barrister, 1987, vol. 14, no. 4, 11–16, 37. Online. Available at 20really%20necessary.pdf (accessed 5 January 2019); Duncan Kennedy, “Freedom and Constraint in Adjudication: A Critical Phenomenology,” in James Boyle (ed.) Critical Legal Studies, New York: New York University Press, 1992, p. 562. Michael Geyer, “Humanitarianism and Human Rights: A Troubled Rapport,” in Klose, The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention, p. 34. The British government systematically undermined Casement’s status in order to influence public opinion to permit him to be hanged as a traitor in 1916. See Séamas Ó Síocháin, Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary, Dublin: Lilliput, 2008.


5 T H E RE D C R O S S A N D TH E L A W S O F W A R , 1 8 6 3 –1949 International rights activism before human rights Kimberly A. Lowe Is the history of international humanitarian law and aid to war victims part of the history of human rights? The purpose of this essay is to explain how and why the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement developed a radical new stance towards the rights of war victims, which combined the language of humanitarianism with the language of human rights. I argue that in 1921 the Red Cross/Red Crescent abandoned its previous understanding that war victims’ rights were limited and contingent, and adopted the belief that these rights were equal, universal, and inalienable. The movement declared that combatant and noncombatant war victims possessed equal rights to medical care and humane conditions of incarceration. In doing so, they rejected the long-standing legal distinction between combatant wounded soldiers and prisoners of war (POWs), and noncombatant civilian internees and refugees. The movement also declared that the rights of war victims applied universally to all armed conflicts, both international and internal (e.g. civil wars, revolutions, rebellions). Finally, these rights were guaranteed by a moral code that transcended reciprocal agreements among states, and therefore must be respected even if the enemy failed to abide by the laws of war. After declaring these rights, the movement sought to secure them through the direct provision of aid to victims of armed conflict and indirect revision of international humanitarian law. Many of these efforts failed, but in 1949 four greatly expanded Geneva Conventions provided a legal basis for the rights of both civilians and victims of non-international armed conflicts for the first time. Scholars are divided over whether humanitarianism and human rights belong to a shared history of efforts to protect the human person or are conceptually and historically distinct. International humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war or the law of armed conflict (jus in bello1), seeks to outline standards of “humane conduct” during war, including prohibiting attacks on noncombatants and requiring medical aid to wounded enemy soldiers and POWs. The international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement was founded to alleviate the suffering created by war by providing food and medical care to wounded soldiers and lobbying for protections under international law. Do these efforts to provide aid to those in need have any relationship to the work of human rights activists? In The Last Utopia, Samuel Moyn argues that humanitarianism, with its focus on religious sentiment and support for the hierarchical “civilizing mission” of European empires, was a historical discourse distinct from human rights, which he defines as grassroots advocacy for the protection of individuals against the state.2 The International Committee of the Red Cross (hereafter ICRC) itself stated in the 1970s that although the 75


concepts of humanitarianism and human rights share a common goal of protecting the human person, they are legally and historically distinct.3 Scholars such as Jan Eckel, Philippe Ryfman, Davide Rodogno, and Michael Barnett similarly argue that because of the conceptual divide between voluntary moral action and universal rights claims, these histories are separate.4 Other scholars, such as Paul Gordon Lauren, David Forsythe, Gary Bass, Brendan Simms, Amanda Moniz, Ian Tyrell, Bruno Cabanes, Stephen Hopgood, and Lasse Heerten argue that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century humanitarian movements made an important impact on human rights activists during the twentieth century.5 For these authors, the discourses of humanitarianism and human rights overlapped and intersected. During the 1960s, the early leaders of the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International identified the Red Cross as a model for their own activism.6 In 1968, the United Nations Conference on Human Rights in Tehran explicitly connected human rights to international humanitarian law.7 That same year, activists concerned with the Biafran War used the language of humanitarianism, human rights, selfdetermination, and genocide to advocate on behalf of Biafrans.8 From the 1980s onward, the New York-based non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch justified its activism through the principles of international humanitarian law.9 Further research is needed to develop a comprehensive picture of how, when, and why activists chose to draw upon humanitarianism, human rights, or both discourses simultaneously. Not all humanitarian activities relied on a discourse of rights, but those of the Red Cross/ Red Crescent did. The history of this movement and its efforts to revise the law of armed conflict provides an opportunity to study the interaction among the codification of international positive law by sovereign states, a transnational social movement, and a discourse of universal rights, during a period of time when the language of humanitarianism had more salience than the language of human rights (namely, before the 1970s or even 1948). From the second half of the nineteenth century to the present, the Geneva Convention (1864, revised in 1906, 1929, and 1949) and Hague Convention (1899, revised in 1907) comprised one of the most extensive bodies of positive international law outlining constraints on state behavior. The Geneva and Hague Conventions are noteworthy not only for their content, but also for their widespread ratification. Accepting the conventions was a prestigious symbol of membership in the exclusive “international society of civilized states,” and most states ratified them sooner or later.10 The conventions gave combatant victims of war – wounded soldiers and POWs – international rights to medical care and humane conditions of incarceration. The Hague Convention was built on a fundamental distinction between combatants and noncombatants, designed to ensure that noncombatants did not become victims of war. Noncombatants were not considered legitimate military targets, and military occupation authorities were prohibited from exploiting civilian populations under their control. Sovereign states were the only entities with the power to make international humanitarian law, but the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement has helped develop and implement the Geneva Convention since the former’s inception in 1863. The movement consists of three different parts, each of which has had different forms of influence vis-àvis sovereign states. One part is the ICRC, a small private organization founded in 1863 and based in Geneva, Switzerland. It utilized private diplomatic contacts and the patronage of the Swiss government to influence intergovernmental revisions of the Geneva Convention. The second part comprises the various national Red Cross and Red 76


Crescent societies. The national societies, limited to one official relief organization per country, have had a broad-based membership, the patronage of their respective national governments, and domestic prestige. During World War I the membership of these societies reached into the millions. This made the Red Cross and Red Crescent the largest global humanitarian network in existence, both during World War I and into the present. The third part is a federation, which sought to facilitate cooperation among the national societies. The federation was founded in 1919 as the League of Red Cross Societies, and renamed the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1991. The guiding principles of the movement are decided at international conferences that include delegates from each national society, the ICRC, governments party to the Geneva Convention, and other private organizations invited to participate. This essay focuses on the development of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and international humanitarian law from 1863 to 1949. Both the positive law of armed conflict and the movement grew exponentially between 1863 and 1921. However, during this period governments considered the rights of war victims to be limited and contingent on contractual agreements among sovereign states – not natural or universal, transcending the sovereignty of the state. The national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, far from fighting for a more inclusive definition of war victims’ rights, embraced the policy of their respective governments. The rights of wounded combatants and POWs, and the prohibition on violence against civilians, were legally confined to international wars between states party to the convention. Only so-called “civilized” nations were permitted to ratify the conventions. Victims of civil wars, revolutions, colonial wars, or other internal conflicts had no rights under the laws of war. Governments party to the conventions also interpreted these agreements as contingent on the behavior of the enemy. If the enemy violated the laws of war, states considered violent reprisals against wounded soldiers, POWs, or civilians to be legally justified. During World War I this justification fueled a brutal cycle of reciprocal violence against vulnerable populations. After World War I, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement rejected its previous understanding of war victims’ rights as limited and contingent. The Tenth International Conference of the Red Cross in 1921 stated in clear terms that combatant and civilian victims of war, in international and internal conflicts, possessed equal, inalienable, and universal rights. Consistent with their traditions of humanitarian aid, the movement focused on two rights: the right to medical care and the right to humane conditions of incarceration. They did not address other political, civil, social, or economic rights that we might consider human rights today. Finally, the 1921 conference called on each national society to establish autonomy from their respective government. Independence was a crucial component of the planned mechanism to safeguard victims’ rights from violations by the state. The national societies were to use their broad-based membership to exert public pressure on domestic governments to respect these newly proclaimed rights of soldiers, civilians, political prisoners, and victims of internal conflicts. From 1921 to 1939, the ICRC sought to implement these new principles through legal revisions to the law of armed conflict and extra-legal aid to political prisoners. Their efforts failed, however, because independence did not materialize. The Red Cross and Red Crescent societies did not mobilize to create public pressure on national governments to respect the rights of war victims or revise international law. Only in 1949 – after a majority of continental European populations had experienced brutal occupation by the Third Reich – would the laws of war be revised in keeping with the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s resolutions of 1921. 77


Absolute obedience to the state, 1863–1914 During the second half of the nineteenth century, two developments regarding the rights of war victims overlapped. First, governments codified the customary practices of Western warfare into positive law through the Geneva Convention of 1864 and Hague Convention of 1899. In doing so, states voluntarily accepted international obligations to provide medical care for wounded friendly and enemy soldiers and humane conditions of captivity for POWs. Second, the Red Cross movement began in 1863, with the purpose of creating voluntary societies devoted to the alleviation of wartime suffering through the care of wounded soldiers. The rhetoric accompanying both these developments made reference to a universal moral duty to address the needs of strangers, and to a belief in common humanity. Yet in reality the codification of the laws of war and growth of the Red Cross movement established that the rights of combatants and noncombatants in war were limited in scope and contingent on the reciprocal agreements of governments in “civilized” nations. European governments’ decision to establish the Geneva and Hague Conventions was heavily influenced by their national publics’ growing concern over the treatment of citizen-soldiers. Over the course of the nineteenth century, many continental European nations revised their laws regarding military conscription, creating an expanded obligation for military service that in some cases included all male citizens. At the same time, advances in communication technologies, such as the telegraph, allowed news from the battle front to be immediately conveyed to soldiers’ families at home. During the Crimean War (1853–6) reports of unsanitary medical conditions in both the British and French armies, conveyed by telegraph, produced a public outcry. Governments now faced the prospect that soldiers’ mistreatment could threaten domestic stability and undermine support for an ongoing war effort. The idea that governments had a duty to care for their soldiers was not new, but only in the nineteenth century did a broad cross-section of the European and North American population begin to pressure their respective governments to adopt the policy. Reformers in the eighteenth century had sought government provision of medical care to enemy soldiers, but these proposals never gained traction with established authorities. In the 1850s, a growing transnational coalition of prominent individuals publicly argued that men who were forced to fight for the state had a right to humane treatment from that state. Dr. Jean-Charles Chenu, a prominent military surgeon who had directed the French military medical operations during the Crimean War, described the issue this way: “[T]he whole question, I believe, is in the assessment of the duties of a government and the rights of the soldier.”11 Dr. Chenu, the British nurse Florence Nightingale, and Swiss philanthropist Henry Dunant (whose A Memory of Solferino is often credited with originating the idea of the Red Cross) were just three of many individuals calling for the improvement of military medical services and neutralization of medical personnel.12 European governments had to confront the broad-based conviction among their own citizens that soldiers forced to fight in defense of the state had a right to medical care from their governments. The issue was domestic: the duty of a government to treat its own citizens humanely. The Geneva and Hague Conventions were an international effort by governments to address this domestic conviction. An international convention would provide reciprocal assurances that one’s own soldiers would not be mistreated by the enemy. In 1864, at



the invitation of the Swiss Federal Council, 16 European states sent delegates to a conference that concluded with the signing of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field (known as the Geneva Convention). The 57 states that eventually ratified the convention bound themselves to respect the following principles during wartime: (1) relief to the wounded would be provided without any distinction as to nationality; (2) the neutrality of medical personnel and establishments would be respected at all times; and (3) a red cross on a white background would be used by all belligerents to indicate the noncombatant status of medical personnel, ambulances, and hospitals. In 1899, at the proposal of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, 26 state delegates from Europe, the United States, and Mexico met in The Hague, Netherlands to codify customs governing the conduct of war. Section I, Chapter II of the resulting Hague Convention included 20 articles defining the humane treatment of POWs. These included food, living quarters, and clothing commensurate with the treatment of the captor governments’ troops, as well as the ability to correspond with the outside world and receive charitable assistance from relief societies. A fundamental principle of the Hague Convention was a distinction between combatants and noncombatants; the latter were not considered legitimate military targets. Section III outlined the duties of a military authority in occupied enemy territory, including prohibiting forced civilian labor or confiscation of civilians’ private property. By ratifying the Geneva and Hague Conventions, a state was agreeing to restrict wartime aggression towards enemy medical personnel, wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians. However, these restrictions were not universal. Both the restrictions and protections applied only to combatants and noncombatants in signatory states. Like all other international legal agreements at this time, only governments belonging to the “international society of civilized states” were permitted to sign the conventions. European states, who dominated this exclusive club, regularly used this distinction to further their own imperial incursions, much to the displeasure of the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and other nonWestern states. The choice of the red cross as the mark of neutrality underscored the assumed relationship between civilization and Christendom. The red crescent was provisionally accepted as a marker only after extensive protest from the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–8). After fighting began, the Russian Tsar Alexander II agreed to provisionally recognize the neutrality of personnel bearing the emblem of the Ottoman Red Crescent Society, if the Ottoman army reciprocated in kind. This decision was not without controversy, however, and only in 1929 did the Geneva Convention recognize the red crescent as an official emblem.13 Soldiers’ rights to medical care and humane conditions of incarceration, and civilians’ status as noncombatants, were also not absolute. While there was a common expectation that state parties would apply the conventions in “good faith,” the agreements themselves did not state whether or not these restrictions applied at all times. The result is that signatory states interpreted their adherence to the laws of war as contingent on contextual factors, namely the behavior of the enemy or the needs of the armed forces to achieve their military objectives. For example, the United States, France, and Great Britain all interpreted the Geneva and Hague Conventions as binding only on the condition of reciprocity. If the enemy failed to abide by the conventions, these states considered themselves legally justified in resorting to brutal reprisals against enemy soldiers and civilians.14 Jurists in Germany took contingency one step further, arguing that actions taken for reasons of military necessity did not constitute violations of the laws of war.15 79


Signatory states agreed that certain conditions created a legal justification for violent acts otherwise condemned by the laws of war, even if they did not agree on what those conditions were. The Red Cross/Red Crescent, far from arguing that soldiers’ rights applied in all circumstances, supported national governments’ interpretation of the law of armed conflict. As the movement grew in strength, increasing official ties to the government, professionalization, and the deepening of gender hierarchy resulted in a definition of war victims’ rights as limited and contingent. The rapid growth of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement from 1863 to 1914 should not be interpreted as a public embrace of moral duty but rather of growing state loyalty. Two founders of the Red Cross, Louis Appia and Gustave Moynier, wrote in 1867 of a transcendent “universal duty imposed by Christian civilization on all peoples” to aid wounded soldiers. Their original goal was not only to humanize the conduct of war, but also contribute to the “disarmament of nations” by sensitizing domestic publics to the horrors of the battlefield.16 The language of universal duty was correlated with a voluntary ideal focused on Christian charity and feminine virtue as a force for peace. Wealthy and aristocratic women served as early patrons and founders of many national societies, while middle-class women formed the volunteer backbone of the national societies’ membership. At the same time, most governments refused to officially recognize the national societies in the first two decades of their existence. Proponents of medical care for wounded soldiers such as Chenu and Nightingale argued that volunteers would only hinder the state’s official medical care. The argument against voluntary aid gained even more salience after the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1). The activities of voluntary societies created disorder for the French military, while Prussian volunteers were placed under the strict control of army officers. In the wake of France’s humiliating defeat, the Red Cross movement began a decisive shift away from voluntarism and towards subservience to the sovereign state.17 By the 1880s, the Red Cross/Red Crescent had abandoned the language of universal duty, and any expectation that voluntary humanitarian aid to wounded soldiers would lead to fewer wars. At its 1884 international conference, the movement officially endorsed the principle of “sympathy and deference towards the military authority in times of peace; absolute obedience in times of war.”18 In return for this loyalty, the state offered legal recognition and special privileges. By the turn of the twentieth century, the national societies had become official auxiliaries to armies of their states, valued for their ability to increase the patriotic engagement of civilians during war. The revised Geneva Convention of 1906 gave them official status under international law for the first time. Agreements with national militaries also promoted professionalization over voluntary charity. In keeping with existing gender hierarchies that defined the armed forces as a male domain, men took control over female volunteers, who were relegated to supporting roles. In the American Red Cross, for example, an increasingly official relationship with the US government from 1905 onward resulted in the transfer of leadership from women to men.19 The leadership of the ICRC was also entirely male, until Marguerite Frick-Cramer became the first female member in 1918. Women’s charitable and professional energies were secured in a consolidating hierarchy whose apex was male. Deeper official ties, professionalization, and predominantly male leadership produced a twentieth-century movement with both broad public influence and an absolute commitment to serving the needs of the state. 80


The movement’s understanding of soldiers’ rights as limited and contingent and of fealty to state power can be seen most clearly in its rejection of any attempt to grant rights to victims of civil wars, be they combatants or noncombatants. In 1863, the five male founders of the Red Cross decided “first and foremost … no action should be contemplated during civil wars.”20 They correctly discerned that governments would view this as unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. For the first 50 years of the movement’s existence, no attempt was made to contest the idea that only soldiers in international wars between “civilized” states had a right to medical care or humane conditions of incarceration. No debate over the issue would take place until 1912, at the Ninth International Conference of the Red Cross in Washington, DC. Both the American and Cuban Red Cross societies submitted reports arguing for the creation of a new international convention governing civil wars. This would ensure that the neutrality of medical personnel was respected and that aid would be distributed on an impartial basis, irrespective of the political divisions within the country at war.21 The American and Cuban reports were informed by three arguments about civil wars. First, these reports reflected the Cuban and American argument that the Cuban war of independence against Spain (1895–8) had been a legitimate struggle for national liberation.22 Second, the American delegate argued that the American Civil War (1861–5) served as a historic precedent for detaching the rights of wounded combatants to medical relief from the recognition of a rebel group as a legitimate, sovereign power. During the American Civil War, US president Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of a blockade of Confederate ports in April 1861 resulted in a de facto recognition of belligerent status for the Confederacy, but no recognition of sovereignty.23 This meant that Confederate soldiers were treated as official POWs with rights under the laws of war. Even Union Army General William T. Sherman, infamous for his reprisal violence in Georgia and the Carolinas, respected this status.24 The conclusion of the American Red Cross in 1912 was that soldiers in a domestic insurrection could still be granted rights under the laws of war. Third, the American delegate argued that there was a “universal duty” to alleviate suffering that was determined by a shared humanity, not by legal distinctions between official combatants and rebels.25 In 1912, the other delegates vehemently rejected these arguments. In their view, providing food or medical aid to rebels was synonymous with recognizing them as a legitimate government. Aid to rebels was therefore treason. The delegate of the Russian Empire declared that his government could not consider insurgents or revolutionaries as anything but “criminals,” and therefore all offer of services, direct or indirect from the Red Cross societies to insurgents or revolutionaries could not be considered as anything but a violation of friendly relations, as an “unfriendly act,” tending to encourage and to foment rebellion in a country. Only the delegate from Uruguay was prepared to offer his “complete, enthusiastic, radical” support of their proposals.26 All others agreed that aid to civilian and combatant victims in civil wars could never be separated from the sovereign status of the conflicting parties. They further agreed that the Red Cross/Red Crescent should do nothing unless their governments gave official recognition to civil wars under the laws of war (a legal 81


revision they deemed highly unlikely). In short, for both signatory states and the majority of Red Cross and Red Crescent delegates, the rights of combatants and noncombatants were the result of positive legal agreements between sovereign powers, not a natural or universal moral code. These same rights were limited and contingent, reserved for populations of “civilized states” engaged in international wars.

Violence against wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians, 1914–21 From 1914 to 1918, World War I produced both unprecedented outpourings of humanitarian aid and unprecedented reprisal violence against vulnerable populations that alarmed neutral states and the ICRC. In all the belligerent countries, membership in the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies increased, as did the scope of their activities in service to the national war effort. The national societies, in partnership with their governments, initiated aid campaigns of unprecedented size and scope. Yet aid was always directed in keeping with the military priorities of the government. For example, when news reached the British and French governments that their captured soldiers were starving in camps in Germany and Austria-Hungary, they began a massive operation to send food parcels to these men. Parcels were distributed along strictly national lines. Governments realized that the starvation of their citizen-soldiers would damage domestic support for the war effort. By 1916, French, British, and Belgian prisoners were living off of food parcels they received from their home governments. POWs of those nationalities that did not receive regular parcels from their home governments, such as Italians and Romanians, died of malnutrition.27 The American Red Cross introduced a unique set of programs designed to aid foreign civilians – the first of their kind. At the same time, these activities were designed to further US foreign policy. The sites of American Red Cross operations were carefully planned to align with US president Woodrow Wilson’s strategic objective of fostering peace in the Allied nations of Europe.28 In keeping with prewar interpretations of the Geneva and Hague conventions as contingent on reciprocity or military necessity, wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians all suffered from wartime violence. Quickly setting aside the Hague Convention’s fundamental principle that noncombatants were not a legitimate target of hostilities, all belligerents interned foreign civilians as a security measure. For some civilians, this internment lasted a full four years, in conditions less sanitary than those of POW camps. Real and imagined mistreatment of POWs became a source of outrage for national publics and belligerent governments, and fueled a dangerous cycle of reciprocal violence.29 POWs in the hands of both the Allied and Central Powers faced inadequate food and lodging that led to death from malnutrition and disease, forced labor in dangerous occupations such as mine removal on the front lines, and other violations of the Hague Convention. Whether intentional or the result of inadequate resources, mistreatment of POWs led to reciprocal mistreatment. Wounded and imprisoned soldiers suffered physical harm from both official reprisals and spontaneous acts of hostility from British, French, and German Red Cross volunteers.30 Whether or not these were violations of the laws of war depended on belligerents’ differing interpretations of which contextual factors provided legal justification for acts that were otherwise prohibited by the Geneva and Hague Conventions. On this point the belligerents did not agree, which fueled accusations of wartime atrocities against both the Allied and Central Powers.31 82


The ICRC considered this violence against wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians a violation of at least the principles of “humane conduct” in war, if not the law itself. The ease and frequency with which belligerents justified violence in the name of reprisals alarmed the ICRC and neutral states, such as the Vatican. Neutral states and the ICRC created an ad hoc system of camp inspections and bilateral agreements for prisoner exchanges in the hopes of ending the cycle of reprisals. The war ended, however, before these could make a substantial impact. ICRC delegates were also painfully aware that civilians, once interned, had even fewer legal protections than POWs. The ICRC sought to monitor the welfare of these civilian internees through its International Prisoners of War Agency. However, its efforts to collect information about interned civilians to share with family members and to distribute aid to internees were entirely dependent on the voluntary cooperation of the captor authorities.32 Violence against wounded soldiers, POWs and civilians did not end in 1918. Rather, it spread through conflicts that historians Peter Gatrell and Robert Gerwarth have termed the “wars after the war.”33 The dissolution of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and German empires led to a series of revolutions, civil wars, border disputes, and inter-ethnic conflicts. From 1918 to 1923, these wars killed at least 4 million people and created many more refugees and expellees throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East. The national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, once loyal servants to empires that were now defunct, found themselves illequipped to address the suffering caused by these conflicts. Communist revolutionaries and nationalist independence fighters viewed the national societies with suspicion, making it impossible for societies’ members to deliver aid to all parties in the conflict. After the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, they violently dissolved the Russian Red Cross, confiscated its property, arrested its leaders, and rebuilt the society from the ground up as an instrument of the revolutionary government.34 The experiences of World War I and “wars after the war” prompted the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement to reevaluate its principles concerning the limited and contingent rights of war victims and subservience to the state. Violent reprisals against POWs and wounded soldiers demonstrated the need to declare that prohibitions against mistreatment were binding at all times, irrespective of the behavior of the enemy. The large number of civilians interned without adequate food or medical care highlighted that the Hague’s blanket prohibition on violence against noncombatants was out of step with the realities of modern war. The victims of revolutions and civil wars highlighted the need to establish protections for victims of internal conflicts. Finally, the dissolution of national societies revealed that reliance on government patronage could seriously impair the ability of the movement to provide humanitarian assistance.

The superior laws of humanity, 1921 The ICRC began planning for major changes in the movement at least by 1918, but the Paris Peace Conference and continued unrest in Central/Eastern Europe caused repeated delays. It was not until 1921 that the Tenth International Conference of the Red Cross met in Geneva. The delegates at the 1921 conference passed a series of resolutions declaring that civilian victims of war possessed rights equal to those of wounded soldiers and POWs. These rights were guaranteed by the immutable moral principles of humanity, not reciprocal agreements between states. They also applied to all armed 83


conflicts: civil war, revolution, and insurrection as well as international conflicts. For the first time, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement formally declared that the rights to medical care and humane conditions of captivity were universal, equal, and inalienable. This dramatic break with previous policies is worthy of a detailed analysis. The 1921 resolutions asserted that all prisoners, whether combatant or civilian, had equal rights during wartime. The delegates based their assertion on the belief that the prisoner “has the right to the respect due to every human being,” and that it is the responsibility of both the home state and captor state to protect that right.35 Wartime prisoners had been found guilty of no crime, deserved no punishment, and could only be held in order to weaken the combat power of the enemy state. Therefore, violent reprisals against POWs, mass deportations of civilians, and taking hostages from the civilian population should be expressly forbidden under all circumstances. If military necessity required the internment of certain civilians, they were to be treated at least as humanely as POWs. To secure these rights for POWs, deportees, evacuees, and refugees, the delegates resolved that governments should modify the Hague Convention as soon as possible. The delegates further declared that the rights of war victims applied universally to all conflicts: “all victims of civil war or any [revolutionary disturbance], without exception, have the right to be rescued according to the general principles of the Red Cross.”36 They also passed a resolution stating that political prisoners must be treated according to the principles of the Hague Convention. Giovanni Ciraolo, the president of the Italian Red Cross, wrote that neutral aid must be extended to all human conflicts, because a man who suffers or is in peril has the right to be rescued wherever he is found, regardless of the cause of his suffering or danger. It is an incontestable right that the man who suffers has to the pity of another man.37 Ciraolo invoked the language of humanitarian sentiment and combined it with a declaration that suffering created a universal right to medical care, food, and other humanitarian aid. In 1921 the delegates embraced the idea of a universal right based on a shared humanity, accepting the very argument that had been vehemently rejected in 1912. The delegates of the 1921 conference took great pains to separate the rights of war victims from the recognition of revolutionaries, rebels, or insurgents as sovereign powers. There was no consensus among the delegates regarding the sovereign legitimacy of these different struggles. In fact, the comments of US Army Colonel Robert Olds prompted a contentious debate over whether a “real civil war,” such as that experienced by the United States, should have the same legal status as rebellions and revolutions, such as those fomented by the Bolsheviks throughout Eastern Europe. This question was never resolved.38 Instead, the delegates deliberately used the word “authority” instead of government to avoid the question of sovereign recognition. Their goal was to allow for humanitarian assistance to war victims when the established government denied them permission to work yet an insurgent “authority” with de facto control over territory was asking for their help.39 The only criterion that would exclude a party from receiving aid, they decided, would be a flagrant violation of humanitarian principles, such as the massacre of medical personnel.



The 1921 conference resolutions declared that war victims’ rights transcended the sovereignty of the state. In their official resolution, the delegates drew the attention of all governments and of all political parties, national or otherwise, to the fact that the state of civil war cannot justify the violation of the law of nations [droit des gens], and that this law must be safeguarded at all cost.40 The Ottoman Red Crescent, in its report on civil wars, argued that “the sovereignty of the State does not confer to it the right or privilege to violate the superior laws of humanity.” The report reasoned that since the “most elementary duty of a government is to safeguard the life and property of its subjects,” no government “truly worthy of the name” could justify denying insurgents or rebels the same care that an enemy soldier in an international war would receive.41 For decades states designated by European governments as “uncivilized” had been denied the right to sign the international conventions that would provide protection for their populations during war. In contrast, the Ottoman Red Crescent report envisioned sovereignty as something determined by respect for the inalienable rights granted by the “superior laws of humanity.” This assertion inverted the nineteenth-century relationship between positive law and international recognition of a government as fully sovereign. It was not only war victims’ rights that were now to transcend state sovereignty. So too did the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s right and duty to intervene on behalf of war victims, even if the established government refused them entry into their territory.42 In practice, however, the right to intervene meant protest, not forced entry. If a country were to deny the ICRC permission to enter its territory, the response planned in 1921 was a public protest by the national societies. The weakness of this plan was not lost on those at the conference. The Georgian Red Cross delegate, painfully aware that his country was losing an ongoing war with the Soviet Red Army, disdainfully characterized it as “nothing.” Jacques Chenevière of the ICRC agreed, but he also pointed out that “the Red Cross cannot do anything other than submit infractions to moral disapproval … The Red Cross does not have an army to go punish a government that refuses its help.”43 Moral disapproval meant mobilizing the broad-based membership of the national societies to pressure their own government or a foreign government into allowing the ICRC to work in its territory. The right to intervene therefore necessitated a final new principle: independence. The reports of the German Red Cross and the “old” Russian Red Cross (an exile group, not the newly rebuilt Bolshevik society) noted that the dissolution of national societies after revolutions demonstrated that the Red Cross must not be dependent on an established government.44 The delegates called on all national societies to foster independence, educate their membership, and prepare for mobilizing public opinion against governments who failed to uphold humanitarian principles.45

The absence of sacred respect, 1922–39 None of the Red Cross/Red Crescent’s 1921 program could be realized without significant changes to both the law of armed conflict and the structure of the movement. The 1921 conference called for the existing rights of POWs under the Hague Convention to be included in the Geneva Convention, and for reprisal violence to be prohibited under all circumstances. The conference also called for a new international diplomatic convention that would specify the rights of interned civilians, refugees, deportees, and evacuees. 85


Finally, the delegates expressed the hope that the rights of victims in civil wars would be codified at a future date.46 In the meantime, the delegates gave the ICRC a mandate to undertake immediate relief work on behalf of political prisoners. The success of these legal revisions and practical interventions depended on the transformation of the national societies from military auxiliaries into independent influencers of public opinion. The ICRC, an organization with 16 Swiss members at the end of World War I, could not on its own transform national or international public opinion. The 1921 resolutions recognized that only the national societies had the broad-based membership needed to pressure states into changing their behavior. The Geneva Convention of 1864 had been a governmental response to changing societal norms regarding the rights of soldiers vis-à-vis their governments. For rights to be expanded for civilians and victims of internal conflicts, a similar broad-based conviction would need to take hold. In other words, without pressure from concerned citizens for compliance, neither positive law nor moral pronouncements would influence states’ behavior. Delegates within the movement recognized that the revision of international humanitarian law, itself a difficult task, could not guarantee the rights of war victims. At the Eleventh International Conference of the Red Cross in 1923, the delegates explicitly discussed the fact that the real source of violence against POWs, wounded soldiers, and civilians during World War I was not the absence of positive law, but of “sacred respect … without which no civilization is worthy of the name.”47 The ease with which governments found legal justification for brutal reprisals indicated a lack of respect for the humanitarian principles behind the legal articles. For example, the Dutch Red Cross representative pointed out that the Hague Convention’s fundamental distinction between combatants and noncombatants already prohibited taking civilians as prisoners. The very notion of a civilian prisoner was “a conception generally condemned by the law of nations.”48 The French Red Cross delegate agreed that mistreatment was not the result of “insufficient regulations.” It was not the law, but “the spirit that matters; without it all work is useless.”49 He argued that fostering a public opinion that would require governments to uphold both their agreements and the principles behind them was more important than legal changes. Paul Des Gouttes, vice president of the ICRC, agreed with the national delegates. Yet the ICRC was at a loss for how to create this sacred respect. Its only hope was that clearer legal provisions would strengthen public protests against government violations. Des Gouttes believed that “public opinion judges severely those who have signed an obligation and do not hold to it.”50 Between 1922 and 1939 he was to be severely disappointed. Public moral approbation and an independent Red Cross/Red Crescent movement did not materialize during the interwar years. National societies defended their governments, rather than aiding ICRC efforts. As a result, efforts to implement the new program were seriously compromised from the start. Without the support of the national societies’ broad-based membership, the ICRC struggled to find an incentive for governments to allow a neutral party access to political prisoners or to revise international humanitarian law. It is important to note that the ICRC’s interwar designation of political prisoner (prisonnier politique) or political detainee (détenue politique) was much broader than today’s usage, which typically refers to someone imprisoned by their government for their beliefs. The ICRC’s interwar usage encompassed any prisoners who did not meet the definition of 86


POWs, as defined by the Hague Convention. Such prisoners included victims of government repression, but also civilians taken as hostages during internal or international conflicts, combatants captured in internal conflicts, and combatant or civilian prisoners retained as hostages after the end of hostilities. After 1921 the ICRC sought to intervene on behalf of all these types of political prisoners. Established governments did not welcome its efforts. They did not recognize the ICRC’s mandate and viewed its interventions as unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a state. The ICRC had the most success gaining access to political prisoners when two states had imprisoned one another’s citizens. These governments had a reciprocal interest in exchanging prisoners in order to repatriate their own citizens. The ICRC successfully arranged for exchanges of political prisoners between Greece and Turkey (1923) and Ukraine and Czechoslovakia (1925). It was unsuccessful in arranging a general prisoner exchange between Poland and Lithuania from 1924 to 1929, but the negotiations did have a secondary effect of giving ICRC delegates access to prisons, improving the conditions of incarceration, and liberating some prisoners.51 The ICRC found it much more difficult to obtain government cooperation in cases where the state was maltreating its own citizens. Over the course of two decades, only the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes allowed the ICRC to visit political prisoners without restrictions.52 The ICRC argued that governments had no reason to refuse them authorization to inspect detention centers where political prisoners were being held if the governments were doing no wrong.53 However, no public protests or broad-based moral disapproval accompanied their requests for access. Unlike citizen-soldiers, domestically unpopular victims – often from ethnic, religious, or political minorities – elicited little popular pressure. In other cases, repressive governments had little concern for domestic or international public opinion. The Soviet Union, for example, refused to allow any intervention. From 1921 to 1923, the ICRC sought to use economic investment from Western European governments as an incentive for Soviet authorities to allow its delegates access to political prisoners. These efforts fell apart when that foreign investment failed to materialize.54 The Soviet government and Soviet Russian Red Cross summarily rejected additional requests in 1924, 1925, and 1927.55 Other governments permitted ICRC inspections, but only with conditions that all but guaranteed a positive report. The ICRC had to choose between gaining access to prisoners or insisting on a free and neutral inspection. They chose access. For example, in 1923 two ICRC delegates, Raymond Schlemmer and Rudolph Haccius, investigated reports that the Irish Free State government was summarily executing prisoners from the Irish Republican Army who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Free State government.56 The Irish Red Cross society refused to cooperate with the mission. Upon arriving in Dublin, Schlemmer and Haccius were informed by Desmond Fitzgerald, the minister for external affairs, that his government did not recognize the ICRC’s “right of intervention in the case of civil war.” Fitzgerald viewed the prisoners in question as ordinary criminals. As a “courtesy,” Fitzgerald allowed the delegates access to three detention camps and one prison, but with significant restrictions. The delegates were not permitted to speak to any of the detainees.57 They also could not visit any of the specific detainment camps in which abuse had been reported. Based on what they did see, the delegates’ final report concluded that the complaints of mistreatment had been exaggerated, and that the Irish Free State upheld the principles of the 1921 conference. The ICRC published a truncated version of this report but did not make public the fact that 87


the delegates had only limited access to prisoners. Unfortunately, this had the effect of quieting public concern about conditions in the prison without holding the Irish Free State government accountable. Efforts to expand the rights of civilian victims of war under international law also met with fierce resistance during the 1920s. In 1923 the ICRC drafted both a new convention for POWs and a convention for civilians. The head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Paul Dinichert, predicted that governments would not create a civilian convention because they had no reciprocal interest or domestic pressure to do so.58 Dinichert was right. He approached the French and British governments about revising the Geneva Convention, but both were adamant that there should be no discussion about applying the rights of POWs to civilians.59 The Swiss government only included the draft convention for POWs on the agenda for the diplomatic convention to revise the Geneva Convention in 1929. This elicited objections from countries in which civilians had recently suffered from civil war, revolution, or border disputes. The governments of Egypt, Greece, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes all explicitly requested that a convention for civilians be included.60 However, the French and British position prevailed. The successful revision of the Geneva Convention in 1929 accepted both the new convention for POWs and a blanket prohibition on reprisals against POWs. A real or alleged violation of the laws of war by the enemy could no longer justify reciprocal violence against POWs. This marked an important shift towards viewing the rights of POWs as inalienable.61 The rights of civilian war victims, in contrast, were still confined to the Hague Convention’s existing distinction between combatants and noncombatants. Not only did the conference fail to consider the ICRC’s draft convention for civilians; the delegates deleted the one reference to civilian prisoners in the draft of the POW code presented by the ICRC in 1929. Ignoring the many civilian victims of World War I, the majority of delegations insisted that the Hague Convention was sufficient protection for civilians, who, as noncombatants, should never become targets of violence.62 The only concession to the issue of civilian victims was the request, in the Final Act of the conference, that a study be made to consider the possibility of a new convention. The 1930s further highlighted the vulnerability of political prisoners and of civilians, and the inability and unwillingness of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement to protect them. Victims of government repression in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, civilian victims of Italian war crimes during the Italo-Ethiopian War (1935–6), and prisoners held during the Spanish Civil War (1936–9) found little protection. In most countries the national Red Cross societies became even more closely tied to their governments. The ICRC was also increasingly reliant on the Swiss government for funding, which curtailed its independence of action. The ICRC did not condone these flagrant violations of the 1921 resolutions, but neither did it denounce them. During the second Italo-Abyssinian (Ethiopian) War, the ICRC sought to protect both civilians and POWs. Abyssinia had not ratified the new POW convention, but it had ratified the Geneva Convention of 1929 for the protection of wounded soldiers and the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibited the use of chemical weapons. Italy had also ratified both conventions. The law of armed conflict therefore applied to the war, but the ICRC could do little to force the cooperation of the belligerents. The Italian army used chemical weapons against Ethiopian civilians and bombed neutral Red Cross hospitals. The ICRC privately protested to Mussolini, which made no impact. No public denunciations of Italian war crimes followed, either from the ICRC, the Italian Red Cross, or the League of Nations.63 88


During the Spanish Civil War, the law of armed conflict did not officially apply. However, both the Republican and Nationalist armies initially agreed to respect the principles of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and condemned the taking of civilian hostages. Both sides also accepted the ICRC offer to provide neutral medical care for the wounded, aid civilian victims of the war, and monitor POWs. Yet, in practice both parties imprisoned civilians who had not taken part in the hostilities. The detaining authorities did not distinguish between combatants bearing arms openly, and prisoners accused of espionage. This meant that multiple types of prisoners were all treated as spies guilty of treason, leading to the summary execution of many. Both sides refused to provide accurate lists of those taken captive and denied ICRC delegates access to prisoners. Over three years of conflict, prolonged negotiations over an exchange of prisoners resulted in the release of fewer than a hundred men.64 Victims of government repression fared no better. Faced with the unenviable choice of a public protest without domestic or international support, silent disapproval, or compromised access to prisoners, the ICRC most often chose the latter two. In 1931, the ICRC declined to visit political prisoners in Italy because ICRC president Max Huber feared the visit would be used as pro-fascist propaganda. The Italian Red Cross conducted the inspection instead, and its positive report was published by the ICRC.65 In 1935, the ICRC formed a Political Detainees Commission (Commission des détenues politiques) to help deal with the growing number of political prisoners in Europe, but the policy of choosing access over protest did not change. That same year, with the help of the vice president of the German Red Cross, the ICRC received authorization for Carl J. Burckhardt to visit the concentration camps of Lichtenburg, Esterwegen, and Dachau. His report criticized the fact that political prisoners were not separated from common criminals, and that the length of their sentences was at the discretion of the Gestapo. The ICRC did not publish the report. The following year the German Red Cross, on Hitler’s orders and in preparation for improving Germany’s reputation during the Berlin Olympics, invited the ICRC for another visit. Burckhardt noted with approval the separation of political prisoners from common criminals, the creation of aid organizations for detainees, and the liberation of prisoners. His positive account of the camps was published in the ICRC’s General Report in 1938.66 Just four months later, the ICRC reacted in shock to the violence against Jews on Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938. It tried to investigate the Buchenwald concentration camp again, but its requests were denied. The ICRC made no public protest against the Third Reich’s refusal to cooperate.67 That same year, the ICRC made a final attempt to organize a legal revision. It asked the delegates of the Sixteenth International Conference of the Red Cross to approve a draft convention that created specific rights for victims of civil wars and political prisoners. This draft included a recognition of the ICRC’s right to offer its services during internal conflicts, known in contemporary legal terms as the “right of initiative.”68 The delegates declined to approve the proposal because it was deemed too explosive given the political climate.69 The following year, the ICRC convinced the Swiss government to convene a diplomatic conference to discuss a code for civilians drafted in 1934.70 Yet events were outstripping the slow process of legal change. By September 1939 war had begun in Europe.



International legal revisions, 1945–9 World War II provided further evidence of the vulnerability of both civilian victims of war and victims of internal conflicts. The brutal occupation policies of both Germany and Japan, and the Nazi genocide produced more civilian than combatant deaths. While the Allies vigorously denounced these atrocities, the German and Japanese Red Cross societies grew more, not less, loyal during the war. The Allies’ strategic bombing of civilian targets drew little domestic protest. The national societies in belligerent states remained divided by patriotic loyalties. The ICRC’s pattern of silence was repeated when, in 1942, it chose not to issue a public denunciation and appeal concerning the Third Reich’s massacre of Jews, mass deportation of Jews to death camps in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, the Allied expansion of air raids targeting civilians, and German mistreatment of Soviet POWs, (whose government had never signed the Geneva Convention of 1929). The ICRC debated launching this appeal on 14 October 1942. Those opposed to the appeal feared, not without reason, that it would endanger the ICRC’s ongoing work on behalf of officially recognized POWs. The Swiss Federal Councillor Philip Etter also sought to prevent the ICRC from taking an action that might endanger Switzerland’s precarious neutrality and lead to a German occupation of the country.71 The four female members of the 23-person International Committee – Suzanne Ferrière, Marguerite Frick-Cramer, Lucie Odier, and Renée Bordier – argued passionately in favor of an appeal, even though they recognized that it would likely change nothing.72 In hindsight, the ICRC has declared this failure to publicly denounce the Third Reich’s policy of genocide to be its “greatest failure.”73 In the aftermath of World War II, states undertook a major revision of the Geneva Convention. The Hague Convention was incorporated into four greatly expanded Geneva Conventions. Common Article 7 (Article 8 in the Fourth Convention) stated that the rights of protected persons were inalienable; “no circumstances” could result in the renunciation of an individual’s rights under the conventions. Protected persons included civilians under occupation by the enemy. The Fourth Convention prohibited the imprisonment, forced transport, and rape of civilian populations. The conventions also addressed internal conflicts for the first time. Common Article 3, which was included in all four of the Geneva Conventions, banned “violence to life and person,” “outrages upon dignity,” and torture during “non-international armed conflicts.” It also recognized the ICRC’s “right of initiative” to protect victims in these conflicts.74 In sum, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 began to incorporate legal changes first called for the Tenth International Conference of the Red Cross in 1921. What was responsible for states’ willingness to revise the Geneva Convention in ways that they had vigorously opposed for decades? Scholars have identified some key factors, but further research is needed to fully understand the many national perspectives represented at the international diplomatic convention. As this essay has shown, from 1921 onward the ICRC sought to make the Geneva Convention universally applicable to all victims of conflict. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s they used private diplomacy to encourage revisions of the convention. Most states, especially France and Great Britain, opposed their efforts. Only Egypt, Greece, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes supported a convention for civilians in 1929.



By 1949, the direct experience of occupation and resistance gave rise to increasing domestic pressures to expand protections to civilians and internal conflicts. The experience of brutal occupation throughout continental Europe during World War II, combined with civil wars in Spain, China, and beyond, created a critical mass of states willing to support the ICRC’s position, as stated in its proposed preamble in 1949: “respect for the personality and dignity of human beings constitutes a universal principle that is binding even in the absence of any contractual undertaking.”75 In addition to the preamble, the ICRC’s draft gave combatants and civilians in international and civil wars full and equal rights in all four expanded conventions. Continental European states that had endured direct German occupation supported the ICRC’s draft convention. Britain, Australia, and the United States, concerned with the growth of anticolonial independence movements, fought against the application of the convention to civil wars. They also opposed the reference to a universal principle included in the ICRC’s preamble. The four revised Geneva Conventions of 1949, with the limited protections created by Common Article 3, and without the proposed preamble, were a compromise between these two blocks of states.76 This compromise was the most substantial revision of the laws of war seen since 1864. However, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 still did not recognize that all victims of conflict possessed universal, equal, or inalienable rights. Most rights still applied only to civilians or combatants in international conflicts. The rights of victims in “non-international armed conflicts” were limited to the general prohibitions mentioned by Common Article 3. Perhaps most importantly, over the next three decades national liberation movements and established governments would bitterly disagree over whether anticolonial wars for independence qualified as non-international armed conflicts.77

Conclusion How and when does the history of international humanitarian law and the Red Cross/Red Crescent intersect with the history of human rights? Until 1921, there is little evidence to suggest that either states or the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement considered the rights of war victims to be inalienable, equal, or universal. These rights were not equal because the rights of wounded soldiers and POWs were more extensive than those of civilians. They were not universal, because they applied only to international conflicts between “civilized” states. Finally, they were not inalienable, because governments considered themselves bound to uphold the conventions only if their enemy did so as well. National societies supported the view of their respective national governments. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement avoided any consideration of the rights of war victims in internal conflicts, which national governments viewed as an unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. During the nineteenth century, the rights of wounded soldiers, POWs, and civilians were limited and contingent on reciprocal agreements among “civilized” states. The violence perpetrated against these vulnerable populations during World War I and “wars after the war” caused the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement to reconsider both its principles concerning the rights of war victims and its relationship to the state. In 1921, it declared that combatants and civilians possessed equal rights and that these rights applied to both international and internal conflicts. They further declared 91


that the rights of war victims were not dependent on the behavior of the enemy. They were inalienable – guaranteed by the “superior laws of humanity” – and valid in all circumstances. The 1921 resolutions also recognized that the protection of war victims, especially during civil wars and internal conflicts, required independence from established governments. At the same time, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement advocated only two universal rights: the right to medical care and the right to humane conditions of incarceration. These two rights reflected the movement’s humanitarian focus during the nineteenth century, even as national societies like the Ottoman Red Crescent sought to use rights discourse to upend humanitarianism’s imperial past. The humanitarian principles outlined by the 1921 conference represent a crucial instance in which the language of humanitarian charity and language of universal rights overlapped. From 1921 to 1949, the ICRC sought both legal revisions and humanitarian interventions in keeping with its 1921 program. However, these efforts could not be realized without an independent public opinion willing to pressure governments to respect the rights of war victims. This failed to materialize. National societies continued to prioritize their official role as military auxiliaries. This had tragic consequences for the willingness and ability of the movement to protect war victims from abuses by established governments during World War II. Only after the war did the Geneva Conventions of 1949 begin to reflect an understanding of war victims’ rights as inalienable, equal, and universal. The 1949 revision of international humanitarian law was the culmination of over two decades of work. Yet, the mechanism to enforce war victims’ rights remained a key problem. Both World War I and the interwar years had made it clear that neither moral declarations nor positive law were sufficient to protect individuals from state abuse. Broad-based domestic concern was also necessary. Further research is needed to understand the dynamic between domestic publics and national policies towards the rights of war victims as well as the dynamic among official ties, codification, professionalization, gender, and the exclusion of noncombatants from legal purview. In 1863, governments’ perception of reciprocal interest was shaped by a broad-based domestic outcry over the treatment of citizen-soldiers. A similar dynamic seems to have been at work in 1949. During the interwar years, by contrast, the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies failed to develop the independence necessary to apply broad-based public pressure on governments to change their behavior. After 1949, in spite of the changes in international law, the problem of how to foster a spirit of respect – or at least incentives for compliance – has remained an ongoing challenge for both advocates of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Notes 1 The phrase “laws of war” includes both laws regulating the conduct of parties engaged in an armed conflict (jus in bello, “right conduct in war”) and laws regulating when it is permissible/ legal to engage in war (jus ad bellum, or “right to go to war”). Jus in bello can also be referred to as the “law of armed conflict” or “International Humanitarian Law” (IHL). The laws of war included both the Geneva and Hague Conventions and widely accepted customs of military conduct. 2 Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010, p. 220. 3 Dietrich Schindler, “Le Comité International de la Croix-Rouge et les Droits de l’Homme,” Revue Internationale de la Croix-Rouge 61, no. 715, 1979, 3–15.



4 See Jan Eckel, “The Rebirth of Politics from the Spirit of Morality: Explaining the Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s,” in Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds.) The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, pp. 226–60; Philippe Ryfman, Une histoire de l’humanitaire, Paris: La Découverte, 2016; Davide Rodogno, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire 1815–1914, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011; Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. 5 These scholars do not agree on when and how this transformation occurred. Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011; David P. Forsythe, The Internationalization of Human Rights, Lexington, KY: Lexington Books, 1991; Gary J. Bass, Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention, New York: Vintage, 2009; Brendan Simms and D. J. B. Trim (eds.), Humanitarian Intervention: A History, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011; Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918–1924, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014; Lasse Heerten, The Biafran War and Postcolonial Humanitarianism: Spectacles of Suffering, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017; Amanda B. Moniz, From Empire to Humanity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016; Ian Tyrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. 6 Stephen Hopgood, Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006, pp. 68–9. 7 Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights, Tehran, 22 April to 13 May 1968, New York: United Nations, 1968, p. 18. Online. Available at fatchr/Final_Act_of_TehranConf.pdf (accessed 15 December 2018). 8 Heerten, The Biafran War, p. 7. 9 Stephen Hopgood, The Endtimes of Human Rights, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013, pp. 120–1. See also Emily Crawford, “Convergence of Norms Across the Spectrum of Armed Conflicts: International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law,” in Gregory Rose and Bruce Oswald (eds.) Detention of Non-State Actors Engaged in Hostilities: The Future Law, Leiden: Brill/Nijhoff, 2016, pp. 7–22. 10 All conventions and states party to the convention can be found online. Available at (accessed 15 December 2018). There is an extensive literature on international law and the “international society of civilized states,” including Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005; Gerrit W. Gong, The Standard of “Civilization” in International Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984; Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 11 Jean-Charles Chenu, Rapport au Conseil de Santé des Armées sur les Résultats du Service Médicochirurgical aux Ambulances de Crimée et aux Hopitaux Militaires Français en Turquie pendant la Campagne D’Orient en 1854–1955–1956, Paris: Victor Masson et Fils, 1865, p. 689. 12 John F. Hutchinson, Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996, pp. 26–7. 13 Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, pp. 140–7. 14 For the US interpretation, see John Fabian Witt, Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. The French considered any violation of the conventions by the enemy to justify reprisal violence. See Robert Jacomet, Les Lois de la Guerre Continentale, Paris: L. Fournier, 1913, p. 26. The British manual argued that reprisal violence was justified in the face of “repeated violations” by the enemy. See Colonel James E. Edmonds and Lassa Oppenheim, Land Warfare: An Exposition of the Laws and Usages of War on Land, for the Guidance of Officers of His Majesty’s Army, London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1912, p. 25. 15 Isabel V. Hull, A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law During the Great War, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014. 16 Gustave Moynier and Louis P. A. Appia, La Guerre et la Charité: Traité Théorique et Pratique de Philanthropie Appliquée aux Armées en Campagne, Genève: Cherbuliez, 1867, pp. 63–4, 134. 17 Hutchinson, Champions of Charity, pp. 105–49.



18 Troisième Conférence Internationale des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge, tenue à Genève du 1er au 6 Septembre 1884: Compte Rendu, Geneva: Comité International de la Croix-Rouge, 1885, pp. 139–40. 19 Julia F. Irwin, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 30–4. 20 Quoted in André Durand, The International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1983, p. 11. 21 Neuvième Conférence Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, tenue à Washington du 7 au 17 Mai 1912: Compte Rendu, Washington, DC: American Red Cross, 1912, pp. 45–9. 22 American support for Cuban nationalists resulted not only in the Spanish-American War (1898) but also private and governmental humanitarian aid. See Tyrell, Reforming the World, p. 100. 23 See opinion of the US Supreme Court in: Robert Cooper Grier and Supreme Court of the United States, US Reports: Prize Cases, 67 US 2 Black 635. 862. Available at usrep067635 (accessed 21 November 2018). See also Howard Jones, Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010, pp. 47–82, and Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War, New York: Basic Books, pp. 27–49. 24 For an analysis of General Sherman’s campaigns and their relationship to the issue of reprisals, see Witt, Lincoln’s Code, pp. 250–84. 25 Neuvième Conférence Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, p. 203. 26 Archives du Comité Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, Geneva (hereafter ACICR), CR 22–1, 32, Commission chargée de préciser les fonctions de la Croix-Rouge en cas de guerre civile, Minutes, 10 May 1912. 27 Heather Jones, “International or Transnational? Humanitarian Action During the First World War,” European Review of History, 2009, vol. 16, no. 5, 697–713, here 698, and Giovanna Procacci, Soldati e Prigionieri Italiani nella Grande Guerra: Con una Raccolta di Lettere Inedite, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1993, pp. 174–5. 28 Irwin, Making the World Safe, pp. 72–3. 29 Heather Jones, “The German Spring Reprisals of 1917: Prisoners of War and the Violence of the Western Front,” German History, 2008, vol. 26, no. 3, 335–56. 30 Jones, “International or Transnational?” 31 For an extensive discussion of these disputes, see Hull, A Scrap of Paper. 32 Comité International de la Croix-Rouge (hereafter CICR), Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité de 1912 à 1920, Geneva: CICR, 1921, pp. 75, 129–73. 33 Robert Gerwarth, “The Continuum of Violence,” in Jay Winter (ed.) The Cambridge History of the First World War. Vol. 2. The State, Cambridge. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 638–62; Peter Gatrell, “War After the War: Conflicts, 1919–1923,” in John Horne (ed.) A Companion to World War I, London: Blackwell, 2010, pp. 558–75. 34 Jiří Toman, La Russie et la Croix-Rouge, 1917–1945: La Croix-Rouge dans un État Révolutionnaire et l’action du CICR en Russie après la Révolution d’Octobre 1917, Geneva: Institut Henry-Dunant, 1997. 35 Dixième Conférence Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, tenue à Genève du 30 Mars au 7 Avril 1921: Compte Rendu, Genève: Albert Renaud, 1921, p. 218. 36 Dixième Conférence Internationale, p. 217. 37 Bibliothèque du Comité international de la Croix-Rouge, Geneva, Switzerland (hereafter BCICR), Croix-Rouge Italienne, La Croix-Rouge Internationale dans la Guerre Civile, Geneva: Journal de Genève, 1921, p. 11. 38 Bibliotheque du Comité Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, Commissions I–VII de la Xe Conférence Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, 1921: Procès-Verbaux et Documents, (hereafter Commissions 1921), Third Commission, minutes, 31 March 1921, pp. 7–8. In the French minutes Olds’ phrase is recorded as “veritable guerre civile.” 39 Commissions 1921, Third Commission, minutes, 4 April 1921, p. 13. 40 Dixième Conférence Internationale, p. 218. 41 BCICR, Croissant-Rouge Ottoman, Croix-Rouge Internationale dans la Guerre Civile, Geneva: Journal de Genève, 1921, p. 7. 42 Commissions 1921, Third Commission, minutes, 31 March 1921, p. 6. 43 Commissions 1921, Third Commission, minutes, 4 April 1921, p. 14.



44 BCICR, Deutsches Rotes Kreuz, La Croix-Rouge et la Guerre Civile, Berlin, 1921, p. 1; BCICR, Ancienne Croix-Rouge Russe, La Croix-Rouge dans la Guerre Civile, Geneva, 1921, p. 5. 45 Dixième Conférence Internationale, p. 218. 46 Commissions 1921, Third Commission, minutes, 1 April 1921, p. 3. 47 ACICR, CR 119–7, “Question des civils, evacués, et deportés,” notes of a meeting between the ICRC and P. Dinichert, 15 December 1923. 48 ACICR, CR 119–2/173, Extraits des procés-verbaux de la conference diplomatique (Juillet 1929) relatifs aux prisonniers civils, 22 July 1929. The Belgian Red Cross delegate similarly insisted that the real problem facing the movement was how to obligate states to respect legal agreements, when the “sentiments of altruism and justice … are not respected by all.” See ACICR, CR 119–7, Procès-verbal de la 4ème commission de la Onzième Conférénce Internationale de la Croix-Rouge, 29 August 1923. 49 “Question des civils, evacués, et deportés.” 50 “Question des civils, evacués, et deportés.” 51 CICR, Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité de 1921 à 1923, Geneva: CICR, 1923, pp. 55–8; CICR, Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité de 1923 à 1925, Geneva: CICR, 1925, pp. 12–13, 48–9; CICR, Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité de 1925 à 1928, Geneva: CICR, 1928, pp. 17–23; CICR, Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité de 1928 à 1930, Geneva: CICR, 1930, pp. 21–2. 52 CICR, Rapport Général … 1923 à 1925, p. 13. 53 CICR, Rapport Général … 1925 à 1928, p. 24. 54 Kimberly A. Lowe, “Humanitarianism and National Sovereignty: Red Cross Intervention on Behalf of Political Prisoners in Soviet Russia, 1921–3,” Journal of Contemporary History, 2014, vol. 49, no. 4, 652–74. 55 CICR, Rapport Général … 1925 à 1928, pp. 24–5. 56 In 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty officially ended the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). The Irish Free State became a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. In 1922, members of the Irish Republican Army who opposed the treaty began a guerrilla war against the National Army of the Irish Free State government. 57 ACICR, CR 22–11/134, Rapport General de Mr. R. Haccius, délégué en Irlande, à CICR (Commission des Missions). 58 “Question des civils, evacués, et deportés.” 59 National Archives, London, UK, Memoranda 42–62, CAB 16/66, Doc. 52, 28 May 1929, Red Cross Convention of 1906 (Geneva), Revision of, and Preparation of Conventions for the Treatment of POWs and for Civil Populations in Enemy Hands. ACICR, CR 119–7, “Prisonniers civils: visite de MM. Cramer & Drachenfels à M. Dinichert le 30 Juillet 1925.” 60 National Archives, London, UK, Memoranda 42–62, CAB 16/66, Doc. 51, 14 May 1929, Red Cross Convention of 1906 (Geneva), Revision of, and Preparation of Conventions for the Treatment of POWs and for Civil Populations in Enemy Hands. 61 Neville Wylie, “The 1929 Prisoner of War Convention and the Building of the Inter-War Prisoner of War Regime,” in Sibylle Scheipers (ed.) Prisoners in War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 97. 62 BCICR, Actes de la conférence diplomatique de Genève de 1929, Geneva: Journal de Genève, 1930, pp. 436, 510, 555; Procès-verbaux de la sous-commission I et de la Commission II, minutes, 11 July 1929, p. 1. 63 Rainer Baudendistel, Between Bombs and Good Intentions: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935–1936, New York: Berghahn, 2006. 64 CICR, Rapport Général du Comité International de la Croix-Rouge sur son Activité d’Août 1934 à Mars 1938, Geneva: CICR, 1938, pp. 119, 121–4. 65 Gerald Steinacher, Humanitarians at War: The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, 22. Jean-Claude Favez, with the collaboration of Geneviève Billeter, Une Mission Impossible? Le CICR, les Déportations et les Camps de Concentration Nazis, Lausanne: Payot, 1988, p. 31. 66 CICR, Rapport Général … 1934 à Mars 1938, p. 39.



67 Jean-Claude Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 20. 68 ICRC, Role and Activities of the Red Cross in Time of Civil War, Geneva: CICR 1938, p. 7. 69 XVIth International Red Cross Conference, London, June, 1938: Report, Geneva: ICRC, 1938, pp. 82–3. 70 ACICR, CR 22–1/39, Giuseppe Motta to Max Huber, letter, 6 February 1939. 71 Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust, pp. 279–82; Sébastien Farré, “The ICRC and the Detainees in Nazi Concentration Camps (1942–1945),” International Review of the Red Cross, 2012, vol. 94, no. 888, 1–28. 72 Steinacher, Humanitarians at War, p. 44. Both before and during the war the female members of the ICRC advocated for stronger policies regarding civilians and political prisoners. 73 ICRC, “Commemorating the Liberation of Auschwitz,” 27 January 2005. Online. Available at (accessed 15 August 2017). See also François Bugnion, “Dialogue with the Past: The ICRC and the Nazi Death Camps,” 5 November 2002 (ICRC statement). Online. Available at ments/misc/6ayg86.htm (accessed 21 November 2018); Peter Maurer, “Remembering the Shoah: The ICRC and the International Community’s Efforts in Responding to Genocide,” 28 April 2015 (speech by ICRC president). Online. Available at remembering-shoah-icrc-and-international-communitys-efforts-responding-genocide-and (accessed 15 August 2017). Historians continue to debate the extent to which anti-Semitism within the ICRC shaped their response to Nazi persecutions. See Favez, The Red Cross and the Holocaust; Farré, “The ICRC and the Detainees”; and Steinacher, Humanitarians at War. 74 The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Geneva: ICRC, 1995. 75 Quoted in J. Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention, Geneva: ICRC, 1960, pp. 21–2. 76 William I. Hitchcock, “Human Rights and the Laws of War: The Geneva Conventions of 1949,” in Petra Goedde, William I. Hitchcock, and Akira Iriye (eds.) The Human Rights Revolution: An International History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 97, 104–5. 77 In 1977, when postcolonial states had achieved a numerical majority at intergovernmental conferences, the Additional Protocols clearly defined the rights of combatants engaged in struggles against colonial or racist regimes. See Giovanni Mantilla, “The Origins and Development of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and 1977 Additional Protocols,” in Matthew Evangelista and Nina Tannenwald (eds.) Do the Geneva Conventions Matter? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 35–68.


PART II T H E IN T E R W A R ER A The League of Nations

6 UNITED IN THEIR Q UEST FOR PEACE? Transnational women activists between the World Wars Marie Sandell Women activists emerged from World War I with a renewed determination to work to improve women’s situation worldwide. Even though the war had disrupted women’s international movements, board members of associations such as the International Council of Women and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance made efforts to keep in contact with one another and their members during the war years.1 And indeed a new organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was established during the war, in 1915. Even in wartime, then, international ties helped set the stage for women’s postwar activism. Alongside significant victories for many national women’s movements in the aftermath of the war, notably in terms of suffrage, women’s advocacy flourished. Many activists believed that further work was needed to end other inequalities (for example, better educational and employment opportunities for girls and women and legal rights for married women), and they coupled this belief with a strong desire for a true and lasting peace. These commitments translated into a renewed effort to forge transnational cooperation following the war. Women were of course not alone in their commitment to internationalism in the interwar era. They found themselves operating in a broader context of increased belief in and practical application of transnational activism.2 Yet, as the historians Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin, among others, point out, women often had more to gain from this internationalism because in most national contexts they were politically marginalized. Women activists looked to intergovernmental organizations for ways to expand their political opportunities and represent their concerns.3 They drew on a long tradition of organizing in movements and associations with transnational links: temperance, prostitution, and peace were areas of earlier reform efforts with such links.4 Many of these women believed that they, as women, had a special inclination for international issues such as peace, justice, and tolerance.5 Some believed that this inclination belonged to mothers in particular, who sought to ensure that their children would grow up without war.6 In the interwar period, the issue of peace served to unite very different groups of women. This was a time when international women’s organizations expanded their membership into countries beyond Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand and expanded their agendas beyond specific rights for women to the pressing humanitarian issues of the day. These humanitarian issues often centered on strengthening more traditional and less contentious women’s roles, and so could be seen as relevant for larger and more disparate groups of women. 99


This essay focuses on women’s international peace activism in the interwar period. It will examine the increased prominence given to peace by the three major international women’s organizations of the day: the International Council of Women (ICW, formed in 1888), the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA, formed in 1904; later known as the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship or simply International Alliance of Women, IAW), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, formed in 1915). These three organizations were closely related: historian Leila Rupp has suggested that they be viewed as “grandmother, mother and daughter,” as one in effect gave birth to another.7 All three were secular, had no particular political affiliation, and, from the outset welcomed female members from around the world. Integral to all their activities was the belief that women could and should organize across national borders and racial and language differences, because women in all societies were subordinated to men and denied their rights. This was something that they shared with other women’s organizations of the same vintage, as notions of gender difference and shared female characteristics lay firmly at the heart of the broader women’s movements that had begun to take shape towards the end of the nineteenth century. Their disappointment at responses to their demands at the national level led these women to see new opportunities for pursuing equality and peace at the international level, with the platform provided by the League of Nations, the new intergovernmental organization. They recognized that the League provided opportunities for their work precisely because it gave them access to a wider international audience. They believed that any resolution passed there would automatically have international impact, thanks to the involvement of governments around the world. This essay explores these organizations’ focus on peace and disarmament during a time of a deteriorating geopolitical climate, and how the delicate matters of war and peace caused both disagreements among and resulted in greater collobaration between female activists, for example, through the establishment of new associations and ways of organizing. The peace question resulted in new commitments to what we can in hindsight describe as humanism, understood as the care for all humanity and everyone’s right to determine their own goals and values, and a renewed focus on rights, which laid important foundations for future debates and developments regarding human rights, particularly women’s human rights. This essay therefore aims to contribute to the gender analysis of internationalisms, something that is still often absent in international history.8 It aims to show how women contributed to the development of human rights in this period, which, as the historiography increasingly indicates, emerged as an idea before the establishment of the United Nations.9 The essay opens in wartime with the establishment of WILPF, and then examines the optimism and expansion surrounding the development of women’s activism in the 1920s. It then explores the challenges that the political and economic instabilities of the 1930s posed for transnational feminist activism, and shows how this challenging environment increasingly led women activists to leave their separate organizations and enter more fully into the international arena provided by the League of Nations.

The wartime gathering of women at The Hague and the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom World War I disrupted the activities and developments of international women’s organizations such as the International Council of Women (ICW) and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). Yet the war also produced a new association: the 100


Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). WILPF was a product of the challenges posed to the women’s movement by World War I. It grew out of the conference held in The Hague by the Dutch section of the IWSA in 1915, although it failed to get an official blessing from that organization.10 Participants viewed The Hague congress as “a remarkable wartime gathering of women from the neutral and belligerent countries.”11 In the words of British delegate Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, “The Congress did much more than pass resolutions. It brought into friendly association the women from belligerent countries and made them realize that their fundamental interests were one and the same.”12 Interwar international women’s organizations such as the ICW, IAW, and WILPF had firmly nineteenth-century origins. Dissatisfaction with women’s subordinate roles in society had led to the emergence of international women’s movements by the end of the nineteenth century. The main pattern to note in the growth of these movements was that American women were the forerunners. Many countries in western and northern Europe witnessed similar developments, as did countries outside the West, albeit a little later. The outbreak of World War I disrupted these developments. During the war years, the ICW and the IWSA held no conferences and no new societies were affiliated, although ICW board members did try to maintain contact with each other. The IWSA was able to keep publishing its journal, Jus Suffragii. Its editor, Mary Sheepshanks, deliberately included news from the two opposing sides with the aim of putting a human face on the enemy. It was Sheepshanks who published Dr. Aletta Jacobs’ “Call to the Women of All Nations” on the subject of holding an international conference in The Hague. Jacobs was a physician, senior member of the IWSA, and leader of the Dutch national section of the IWSA. Fellow suffragists criticized Jacobs’ call because it fell outside the organization’s and publication’s aim of suffrage. Just as disagreement over the issue of suffrage within the ICW (which sought to remain neutral on the issue) had earlier produced the IWSA, so did disagreement within the IWSA over the issue of peace activism at the start of the war lead directly to the formation of the WILPF.13 The reason for ICW’s cautious stand on suffrage was that it had set out to be a general women’s organization – in its own words a “Women’s League of Nations” – that was to be all-embracing and open to all types of women’s groups, ranging from literary clubs to labor groups.14 The IWSA was likewise cautious about its Dutch section’s divisive call to the international conference at The Hague in 1915. The IWSA did not sanction the conference and none of the national suffrage societies of states then at war sent delegates. Yet several leading personalities from the women’s movements gave their support to the conference at The Hague. These included Jane Addams (American suffragist, peace activist, and pioneering social worker), Emily Greene Balch (American peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 1946), Lida Gustava Heymann (German pacifist and women’s rights activist), Anita Augspurg (German pacifist and women’s rights activist), Rosika Schwimmer (Hungarian feminist and internationalist), Maude Royden (British women’s rights and peace activist with strong religious convictions), Charlotte Despard (British suffragist and socialist), and Mary Sheepshanks (British suffragist and social reformer).15 The conference in The Hague was significant for bringing together women from countries in the rival Entente and Central Powers alliances during the war, even as many governments tried to stop them. The choice of the imposing Hague Peace Palace for their conference was also significant, as it connected them with a “new internationalism” – the promotion of international law, international institutions, and international 101


publications.16 The Peace Palace had been built in the wake of the 1899 and 1907 Hague conferences. Those conferences had been attended by European states in response to imperial powers’ escalating militarization. While women had lacked formal roles at either of those gatherings, they had lobbied at both, including the high-profile Austrian pacifist Bertha von Suttner, who was on the Standing Committee on Peace and Arbitration organized by the ICW at both the 1899 and 1907 meetings.17 WILPF was established with the express purpose of securing disarmament, social and economic justice, and an end to all wars. In contrast to the ICW and the IAW, it started life with a functioning international structure, but it had to build national sections. At its inception, it had 13 national sections attached to it: those of Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Australia, Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Poland, and Switzerland joined shortly after the war, in 1919. Like its predecessors, WILPF was an all-female separatist organization, even though some of its members called for uniting forces with men from the outset and it wrestled with the question of male collaboration, as they saw the concentration of all forces, female and males, as necessary when working for peace.18 Nonetheless, WILPF remained a women-only organization. Following its first meeting, it held its second gathering in conjunction with World War I peace talks in Paris in 1919. WILPF subsequently organized its conferences in many different locations. However, the importance of The Hague was again evident in 1922, when it assembled an emergency conference in the same city where the organization had been founded, to consider “A New Peace” and to urge a revision of the peace treaties and reparations of World War I.19 Likewise, it was Geneva’s importance for the new internationalism of this era that prompted WILPF to use this city for its headquearters following the end of the war: This has made it easy for leading members of the League to stay in Geneva, work with the secretary, and confer and cooperate with other internationalists in Geneva. By delegations, petitions and informal contacts, fruitful relations are established with League of Nations circles and with other official and unofficial personages.20

Peace as a unifying goal in the 1920s The 1920s was a period of expansion and optimism for many of the major international women’s organizations. World War I, rather than breaking the bonds formed in the prewar period among women in different countries, served to unite these international groups of women and renewed their resolve to work internationally.21 There were of course other groups of women whose definition of internationalism differed from those of liberal groups such as ICW and IAW, notably socialist women. Socialist women’s internationalism was marked as much by their membership of a particular socialist party, in which the language of “comradeship” rather than “sisterhood” was the orthodoxy, as by gender. Moreover, unlike the women in liberal international women’s organizations, socialist women’s transnational activities took place in mixed-sex organizations and forums.22 What liberal and socialist women had in common, however, was that for historical reasons their prewar international gatherings tended to be dominated by participants from countries in Europe and North America. It is important to know that this limitation was about to change in the 1920s. 102


In the 1920s liberal international women organizations’ unity of determination to prevent conflicts came to extend far beyond the cooperation of only European and North American women, in contrast to before the war. The major organizations followed this pattern of expansion: Having set out with memberships and affiliations predominately drawn from western Europe and North America, they expanded membership into Australia, New Zealand, southern and eastern Europe, and then South America, Asia, and the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s.23 During these years the number of their national affiliations grew substantially, and included for the first time members from countries outside Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.24 For example, the number of national councils affiliated with the ICW rose from 8 in 1899 to 39 in 1925. Some 11 new national councils, of which the majority were from eastern Europe and South America, joined following the 1920 conference in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway, alone. Between 1923 and 1929, the IWSA (soon to be renamed the International Alliance of Women, IAW) likewise gained affiliates from countries outside western Europe and North America, including Brazil, Egypt, India, Jamaica, Japan, Palestine, Lithuania, Ukraine, Bermuda, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Ceylon, the Dutch East Indies, Syria, and Rhodesia. By the end of the 1920s, the IAW possessed 52 member societies, of which half had joined during the 1920s.25 The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which had only recently formed, also expanded markedly over the 1920s. By the end of the 1920s, it had acquired affiliates in 26 countries. The slower growth of WILPF can be explained by the fact that it was formed later than the ICW and IAW, and started with an international structure and then had to build national sections. Its growth may also have been affected by its more radical and outspoken agenda on issues such as peace, disarmament, and colonialism. The geographical expansion of these organizations meant that women from all over the world now congregated in greater numbers at international women’s conferences. Geneva was of course a key meeting place, but they also congregated elsewhere in Europe and North America. The ICW held conferences in Kristiania in 1920 and Washington in 1925, while the IAW held congresses in Geneva (1920), Rome (1923), Paris (1926), and Berlin (1929). WILPF, following its founding conference in 1915 in The Hague, organized a conference in conjunction with the peace talks in Paris in 1919, and then in Vienna (1921), Washington (1924), Dublin (1926), and Prague (1929). It also organized an international conference in The Hague in 1922 that attracted delegates from 111 international and national women’s organizations, and held international summer schools at which prominent WILPF members and academics gave lectures on topics related to peace, disarmament, and international cooperation. The rapid expansion of international women’s organizations in the difficult interwar period is not widely known, and an investigation into women’s activism at this time reveals that more countries were represented and more delegates, especially from outside Europe and North America, attended conferences than in previous decades. A total of 36 countries were represented at the IAW’s first conference after the war in Geneva in 1920. For the first time, women from the so-called East (i.e. Asia) attended. Ten delegates represented India and two represented Japan; at the conference as a whole there was an average of 12 delegates per nation.26 The conference in Rome in 1923 was even more international than its predecessor: women from 43 different countries attended, including Egypt, China, India, Japan, and Brazil.27 In addition, it was reported that 103


hundreds from Rome itself flocked to the evening meetings.28 The IAW’s expansion continued at its subsequent conferences in Paris in 1926 and Berlin in 1929.29 The size of the delegations from non-Western countries was also larger at Paris and Berlin: for example, the Egyptian delegation comprised five women at Paris and eight in Berlin, while it had numbered three at Rome.30 Some 30 countries were represented at WILPF’s 1921 Vienna conference, including Japan, China, Mexico, and the Ukraine. In addition, some 300 women and men attended its first summer school, including from China, India, Japan, Mexico, and the Ukraine. WILPF continued to expand at its conference in Washington in 1924, when four new national sections were admitted, including those of Haiti and Japan. In addition to the 85 delegates representing national sections, there were also fraternal delegates and visitors, including representatives from governments, organizations, and universities as well as women visitors from different parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Thus, the 1924 WILPF conference proved to be as international as the conferences of the IAW described above. A total of 150 delegates and 8 fraternal delegates attended the conference in Dublin in 1926, and 20 out of 24 national sections were represented.31 What stands out with regards to the topics covered at conferences during the 1920s is the new focus on peace. For example, the programme of the IAW conference in Paris in 1926 included two meetings dedicated to “women of all nations” and “women of all nations for peace.” Likewise, WILPF organized a mass meeting for young people, “Youth for Peace,” at its 1924 Washington conference. At its Dublin Congress in 1926, Tano Jodai of Japan spoke on “Economic Imperialism,” and the Prague congress of 1929 featured a session on the political, racial, and international aspects of the settlement of internal disputes, with contributions from Miss Paranjpye and Mrs. Chattopadhyaya of India, and from Irene Ho Tung of China.32 Women from all over the world now congregated in greater numbers at international women’s conferences. Non-Western participants still constituted a minority with their delegations, often comprising just two women. Yet their presence was significantly greater than in the prewar period, and contemporary conference reports are replete with references to the international unity and sisterhood symbolized by their involvement.

Disagreements over methods of peace activism The international peace movement comprised many different groups, including socialists, religious groups, and women’s organizations. While united in their quest for a long-lasting peace, they differed over how to achieve this. Some favored more radical methods, such as strikes and protests, while others proposed a more moderate approach, such as working closely with the newly established League of Nations.33 The women’s movements also showed this pattern, with the ICW standing for the moderate line and WILPF for the radical line. However, what is important to know is that all liberal international women’s organizations shared a common belief in women’s special affinity with peace, justice, and tolerance, as essential female qualities. This belief stemmed both from the gendered expectations attached to the role of “woman,” especially the implied qualities of nurturing, caring, and protecting, and from the experiences that they accumulated working on these issues. For example, the IAW’s declaration of principles stated: “The barbarism of war, torture and famine threatens to engulf the world. It is for the woman’s movement to awaken and strengthen sanity, compassion, wisdom and foresight, which are the gifts of womanhood.”34 104


The question of what course of action to take in activism was a delicate matter that caused disagreement and division between and within organizations. Within WILPF, there were disagreements over principles, ideology, and tactics that became more pronunced in the 1930s. Catherine Foster highlights organizational infighting that coincided with fascism coming to power in Italy and Germany. Some members called repeatedly for economic sanctions such as trade boycotts and oil embargoes, yet the organization as a whole never focused on such proposals. As a result, some members criticized WILPF for not being pacifist enough. Others thought it was too pacifist. As a result, its membership declined in the 1930s.35 In 1936 at an executive committee meeting in Paris some national sections expressed opposition to WILPF’s objectives as adopted at its 1924 Washington congress: The American, British, Polish, Danish, Norweigan, and Swedish sections considered the 1924 wording that stated that WILPF opposed all war including “defensive war” to be too strong, as that position made it impossible for members to support the use of “military sanctions” by the League of Nations, as was permitted by the Geneva Convention. The League of Nations’ idea of “defensive war” meant that an attack on a member nation was to be seen as an attack on all member nations. This was tested in 1935 when Italy invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Both were members of the League, which resulted in sanctions against Italy, and later the League came to Abyssinia’s aid militarily. Yet the intervention was slow and ineffective and was not able to stop Mussolini.36 This type of military action was thus something that many WILPF members condoned, while others remained opposed due to their absolute pacifism. The Scandinavian sections proposed a compromise, to the effect that WILPF should accept as members those who were “interested in” pacifism but not necessarily prepared to support all the WILPF’s principles.37 This debate continued in WILPF’s journal Pax, where members joined with the Scandinavian sections in arguing for greater flexibility regarding new admissions, partly to be achieved by providing education on peace questions upon affiliation. Other members stressed the importance of holding to WILPF’s original role of attracting women who were determined to fight peace, internationalism, and social justice under all circumstances. Strength in numbers, they believed was an illusion, if it came at the price of weakening the organization’s position in such a way that it no longer differed greatly from that of numerous other pacifist organizations – organizations that, they claimed, kept silent and even supported their war-prone governments at the moment of crisis.38 Among the opponents of “softening” WILPF’s objectives in order to increase membership were prominent members such as Dr. Aletta Jacobs, one of WILPF’s founders.39 Despite these differences of opinion among its members, WILPF managed to avoid a split. Other organizations also had internal disagreements among members. However, an analysis of women’s interwar activism reveals that their organizational records downplayed these and sought to present a united front. This is not surprising, given that such records had been collected and passed on to the organization’s headquarters.40 These organizations were conscious of the historical value of their documents, as demonstrated by the careful way in which they recorded their activities in conference reports, executive meeting reports, journals, and other publications.41 Their records allowed them to have a voice and make claims, and thereby to exert extensive power over their own history.42 Frank and partisan passages in private letters sometimes contrast sharply with official accounts, and so provide alternative insights into the nature of women’s international cooperation, offering a window into the thoughts and feelings of women engaged in 105


international cooperation. However, private accounts in letters represent the views of only a minority of members of international women’s organizations. Interpretation of both organizational records and private correspondence must therefore be careful. At least outwardly, then, organizations’ reports displayed a heightened sense of optimism and belief in international cooperation in the interwar period. At that time, the identity of the international women’s movement was based on a collective sense among women, for the important reason that women’s lack of political power continued to divide the sexes.43 After all, these organizations focused on inequalities between women and men (in particular, on political rights and legislation), rather than inequalities that may have divided women themselves. These organizations’ message of equality, justice, and above all peace resonated with many women and enabled good collaboration among women’s organizations and with the League of Nations. It is important to know that despite differences of opinion about goals and tactics, the women’s movements continued to be driven by women’s marginalization, and marginalization united like-minded women on a scale far more international in the 1920s and 1930s than in previous decades. While the organizations continued to differ in their campaigns and methods, they were united as women and united by their renewed focus on international peace following World War I.

Cooperation for peace and disarmament: toward a new vision of humanism As one historian summed up the interwar situation, “If peace was to be preserved, the world had to disarm – and it was up to the League [of Nations] to achieve this.”44 International women’s organizations were keen to cooperate with the League of Nations, and were central to its disarmament campaigns that followed World War I. In the 1920s and early 1930s the importance of the League’s work was self-evident to many organizations around the world. Yet, while the pursuit of international disarmament was the greatest crusade of the League of Nations, it was also its greatest disappointment.45 Deteriorating international relations during the 1930s directed these international women’s organizations more firmly towards peace work, and in particular, the question of disarmament. Conference reports, journals, and correspondence from the period are replete with references to the pursuit of peace as opposed to separatist feminist concerns. Reflecting this is an “Appeal to the World’s Statesmen” that several international women’s organizations, including the ICW, the IAW, and WILPF, jointly issued in 1930: We declare the work for peace to be the most urgent task before the world today. We appeal, therefore, to every right-thinking person and, in particular to women, who pay the first cost of human life, to realize their responsibility and power.46 What is significant to remember is that this new commitment to peace placed the interests of all humans and the preservation of the dignity of all people above all else. Many female activists believed that they were particularly suited to push this agenda of peace and humanism because of their special ability regarding justice and tolerance as mothers, and because of their extensive previous experience with transnational collaboration. Indeed, the urgency of the situation led to new ways of interaction: greater 106


collaboration between organizations and even talk of fusion; widening of regional cooperation, and more and stronger liaisons with the League of Nations. While these organizations had cooperated with each other in the past, in the 1930s their work on peace and disarmament united them more closely. Increasingly, they left their separate conferences to join with each other, and also entered more fully into the intergovernmental arena provided by the League of Nations. During the 1930s, however, the practical organization of peace activism became more difficult for WILPF and other international women’s organizations. Most international women’s organizations in Europe were badly affected, with Italy, Germany, and Austria losing sections. Italy’s totalitarian regime closed down women’s associations and forbade women to attend international conferences. German branches of international women’s organizations were ordered to submit unconditionally to the Führer, recognize the special tasks that the Nazi state assigned to women (mainly racialized social welfare), expel Jewish members from their national boards as well as from the boards of affiliates and local councils, and accept the imposed appointment of Nazi women to leading positions. Spain’s and Czechoslovakia’s associations became practically inoperative. In Japan too, women’s organizations working for peace experienced difficulties.47 Nevertheless, as we have seen, six women’s international organizations joined forces to present the “Appeal of Women to the World’s Statesmen” to the League of Nations in 1930, declaring women’s urgent concern for the future and the need for peace work. The same year, at the London Naval Conference, a delegation of American, British, French, and Japanese women urged substantial reductions in naval armaments. Disarmament became the main focus of the 1930s peace activism. Disarmament was part of broader agenda for peace, yet it was a campaign theme in itself. It had an advantage over more general calls for “peace” in that it called equally on all parties to pull back from an arms race. The upsurge in cooperation across organizations is well demonstrated by the disarmament campaign initiated by WILPF in the early 1930s. WILPF initiated a petition that was translated into 18 languages, published, and discussed around the world. Due to the growing size of the campaign and the public opinion in favor of disarmament, the campaign was taken over by the Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organizations (DCWIO), formed in 1931 as a special committee of the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organizations (LCWIO). The Disarmament Committee was composed of 14 international organizations and one powerful national federal organization. The Disarmament Committee announced its creation as follows: In spite of the popular allegation that women do not know how to work together, actually the largest women’s international organisations which represent over forty million women and cover every organised sphere of women’s activity in all parts of the globe, have joined forces for the first time and have created the Disarmament Committee.48 WILPF’S disarmament petition combined with similar efforts carried out by other organizations. It enjoyed the backing of prominent peace activists such as Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, who was using peaceful and nonviolent methods in his work to achieve independence from the British Empire for India. WILPF was also keen to include and gain help from those who they regarded as most interested in disarmament: the laboring masses 107


of all countries. Representatives of women’s organizations from 56 countries, together with other organizations representing Catholic women and young people and representatives from the Labour Organization of the Second International and the League for the Rights of Man (forerunner of the International League for Human Rights), presented millions of signatures of women and men from around the world to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments (also known as the World Conference on Disarmament), which began in Geneva in 1932. Japan alone contributed 173,000 signatures, and impressive numbers of signatures also came from England, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia.49 At the conference Mary Dingman declared: “To us women, as mothers, the thought of what another great war would mean for our children is the strongest incentive impelling us to spend ourselves in the endeavour to make their lives secure from such a disastrous fate.”50 Despite the failure of the disarmament campaign and the eruption of a new war, the international peace movement demonstrated how the League helped drive the creation of international solidarity. The disarmament negotiations, attended by states, groups, and individuals who operated transnationally, likewise showed that these occasions could function as mechanisms of global governance.51 The League itself was keen to encourage greater involvement of women in its work, as reflected in a resolution introduced by Spain and passed by the assembly of the League in 1931 regarding collaboration with Women’s International Organizations: The Assembly, convinced of the great value of the contribution of women to the work of peace and the friendly relations between the peoples which is the principal aim of the League, requests the Council to examine the possibility of increasing the collaboration of women in the work of the League of Nations.52 The League dispatched its own representatives to international women’s conferences, in an attempt on its part to bolster support at a time when the popularity of the League of Nations was declining.53 However, members of international women’s organizations differed in their views of the League: some were supporters and others were critics. At the level of organizations, the ICW was the most enthusiastic about the League of Nations. The IAW was largely positive towards the League; for example, its Declaration of Principles at its 1935 Congress included references to supporting the League of Nations and peace.54 WILPF was the most critical. Yet WILPF’s British section continued to support the League. Moreover, WILPF did make use of the 1933 and 1938 League of Nations conventions on refugees (on legal protection and residence rights) in their November 1939 newsletter that announced its appeal to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to uphold standards of civilization at the Conference on Refugees he was soon to host.55 Organizational affiliation was only one factor influencing women’s commitment to the League of Nations. For example, historian Christine Bolt argues that the fact that the United States remained outside the League meant that some American feminists felt themselves to be outsiders in Geneva, while British women, whose state belonged to the League, enjoyed a sense of insider status.56 It is important to know that the League of Nations definitely offered an important and distinctively new space to operate for the international women’s organizations. The League shared the women’s concerns with peace and humanism and provided them with new ways of cooperating. 108


Broadening agendas and working for “human rights” During the difficult decade of the 1930s, the major international women’s organizations under scrutiny here broadened their agendas and moved toward a new and supposedly less radical feminism compared to the egalitarian feminism that had dominated some organizations previously. While still pursuing women’s rights, this was now often done within a larger and less gender-specific peace and disarmament agenda. Indeed, some organizations and indivuduals chose to speak of “humanism” rather than “feminism,” and through this touched on issues of human rights and social justice. This change in focus was also evident closer to home, in national and local settings, where debates took place between these new feminists, also sometimes referred to as social and welfare feminists, and egalitarian feminists, also known as equalitarian and even old feminists.57 As the broader view of feminism and turn to humanism came to dominate many of the major international women’s organizations at this time, some egalitarian feminists decided to break away and form new associations that continued to focus primarily on obtaining equal rights for women. The 1920s had already witnessed the growing influence of so-called new feminism that emphasized women’s difference from men, women’s rights for women as a distinct group, and women’s distinctive contributions to society. This 1920s new feminism had made demands for change based on women’s traditional spheres, unlike the more established egalitarian feminism that downplayed differences between the sexes, rejected socially constructed gender roles, and demanded women’s equality with men.58 Whether it was really new at all has been debated,59 yet it did emerge with a new rigor following the war. This movement fit well with these organizations’ shift toward humanism and their focus on the question of peace, which, like new feminism, emphasized women’s difference from men because of their special inclination for this issue. An investigation into women’s peace activism in the troubled 1930s reveals how activists in international women’s organizations came to view peace and disarmament as prerequisites for achieving other rights. Their commitment to disarmament above all else demonstrates that they regarded this as a precondition for improvements for women in all other areas. While these women, working alongside other groups and associations, were drawing attention to issues that we would today label “human rights,” they rarely used that term.60 However, they did use the term humanism, which was part of the broader view of feminism that focused less on achieving legal equalities for women and instead on liberty and respect for all humans.61 The turn to humanism and new feminism were thus linked, and was in part the result of the difficult circumstances in which female activists operated in the 1930s. The outcome was that at least some of these organizations adopted a broader agenda that was capable of attracting a wider, more diverse membership. The ICW, for instance, added concerns with such varied issues as nutrition, women in radio programming and broadcasting, children’s libraries, more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, and the technical training of disabled children to its existing work on slavery, prostitution, the nationality of married women, and equal working conditions for women and men. Of the three organizations, the IAW remained the most obviously committed to women’s equality, despite changes to its agenda, as it continued to work for women’s suffrage, equal moral standards, maternity rights, and the legal status of women. The two different conceptions of equality in these organizations in the 1930s continued to generate disagreement on issues such as protective legislation for women workers and women’s civil status and



nationality. However, the international organizations explored here all aimed to be as all-encompassing as possible. Inclusiveness, that is, opening their doors as wide as possible to a range of women from different national backgrounds, became a priority. Strength in numbers was obviously important, and for organizations that operated transnationally by expanding their horizons beyond Europe and North America, so too was the aim of becoming truly international, as they themselves described it. Broader agendas were required to encompass differences in objectives and forms of development in various national and local women’s movements. This changed focus was also evident closer to home, in debates between so-called “old” or egalitarian feminists and “new,” social or welfare feminists. While the former had been dominant, the latter emerged as the stronger in the 1920s. The latter moved beyond the egalitarian feminist agenda by for instance taking up the issue of endowments for married women who stayed outside the paid workforce. Thus, “new” feminism appealed to women from a wider range of backgrounds, including women who did not respond to a feminism focused on equality in the political and professional spheres.62 Some women, as their contemporary reports attest, were prepared to describe as “feminist” any individual or institution that they believed was working to improve the status of women. Other organizations, such as the ICW, were much less willing to apply the term “feminist” to their own activities, even when they used that term in relation to others’ work.63 For ICW, then, the term “feminist” meant egalitarian feminism and it, and other international organizations, clearly saw a need to downplay any overt connection to egalitarian feminism in order to be acceptable to a wider cross-section of women and to society at large. The newer organization WILPF also lost its strong feminist focus in the interwar period. According to Catherine Foster, WILPF pioneers’ linkage of feminism, and in particular suffrage, to peace loosened as WILPF leaders realized that the advent of women’s suffrage did not bring about the desired changes. WILPF increasingly concentrated its work on peace and international relations and decreased its attention to women’s rights. In the 1930s there were even discussions of dropping the word “Women’s” from the organization’s title. Yet WILPF did remain an organization of women that continued to stress women’s special responsibility for peace work.64 It is important to note that this broadening and more inclusive agenda of new feminism and humanism did not go unchallenged in any of these major international women’s organizations. The renewed emphasis on peace unsettled some members of international women’s organizations, including Carrie Chapman Catt, former president of the IAW. Catt declared in a 1935 letter to Rosa Manus: I feel a sense of disappointment whenever I think of the absence of progress concerning the enfranchisement of women in Switzerland and the rather slow progress being made in France. I do not mind other countries so much. I would think that the Alliance might very well come to an end now were it not for the possibility it has to do some good in the peace movement.65 Disagreements over the new focus on peace by these organizations also appeared in their publications. For example, IAW’s journal Jus Suffragii published a debate over the terms “feminist” and “humanist.” Proponents of the former viewed the new focus on humanism as a betrayal and a move away from their feminist commitment by working 110


for peace. Others, including the IAW president Margery Corbett Ashby, saw no problem with combining the two, and argued that they needed to be not only feminists, but humanists as well.66 Indeed, the IAW’s increased focus on peace work and social reform meant that female activists previously associated with it were now attracted to new equal rights organizations such as Open Door International (ODI) and Equal Rights International (ERI).67 Leading British feminists, including the British suffragist and women’s equal rights campaigner Lady Rhondda, formed ODI in 1929.68 ODI targeted the International Labour Organization (ILO), seeking to prevent the adoption of protective legislation for women workers, which ODI members believed would restrict women’s equality and choice.69 ERI was established a year later, in 1930, with the goal of an international equal rights treaty.70 WILPF’s increased focus on peace work likewise displeased some of its own members, including the committed feminists and pacifists Lida Gustava Heymann and Anita Augspurg, who wanted to retain WILPF’s emphasis on women’s rights.71 It was not only the broadening of these organizations’ agendas and work for peace that caused disagreements among members, but also what methods and course of action that were most suitable for this struggle. While WILPF boldly declared at its 1937 Congress that it sought a “New International Order” far different from the existing situation characterized by disorder and chaos, one in which not only individuals but states would behave according to moral laws,72 members continued to disagree on what action to take. While some members wanted to make bold statements, others preferred taking more prudent steps. As pointed out by Catherine Foster, the German and French sections, whose members were feeling the brunt of Nazi politics earlier and more directly than the British, Scandinavian, and North American sections, favored intense action through an alliance with radical movements and even the Soviet regime.73 Even though WILPF managed to avoid a split, internal disagreement weakened it during the interwar period. The Women’s Peace Crusade, a British umbrella organization that included the British section of WILPF and affiliates of other international women’s associations,74 also faced divisions over whether or not to take political action, over closer cooperation with radical left-wing movements, and over direct action tactics such as strikes and violent demonstrations. The latter, it was feared, would reduce their public appeal and the number of potential collaborators among other organizations.75 The ICW also faced this dilemma, as its leading members hesitated to join the disarmament campaign, given that the ICW constitution prevented the organization from proclaiming its views of political issues. The fact that the ICW did eventually join the disarmament campaign highlights the organization’s flexibility in the context of the severe instability facing Europe in the 1930s. This turn to working for humanism and human rights was thus closely linked to the deteriorating situation in Europe. As Christine Bolt notes, women activists in Europe felt that their societies were moving backwards in the 1930s, not just with regard to feminism, but also core values such as liberty, democracy, political tolerance, and international cooperation. The Spanish Civil War (1936–9) manifested this backward movement more than anything else, they felt. Just as the disarmament campaign had united diverse organizations, both women’s and male-dominated, so also the Spanish Civil War saw women organizing across political and national boundaries and together with men, holding, for example, several anti-fascist conferences in the 1930s.76 Despite disagreements within and between these international organizations, it is important to note that they all 111


agreed that international cooperation was crucial in this period. Women, they believed, had a special talent for international cooperation, and they also believed that working for peace and disarmament was prerequisite to achievements in other areas, including equality for women.

Strengthening equal rights through peace Peace and humanism were thought to go hand in hand with improved rights of women, whose presence in intergovernmental organizations was seen as necessary to achieve the desired changes to women’s status. While peace and disarmament were priorities during the interwar period, women’s groups related these to their equal rights campaign by arguing that women’s full equality would unleash a powerful social force in favor of peace and disarmament. Women’s groups realized that the League of Nations provided opportunities for their work precisely because of its international membership of states. Any resolution passed by the League, they believed, would have an impact on those states’ governments across the world. International women’s organizations used the international platform provided by the League of Nations to work for peace and disarmament, and also to lobby for change on so-called “women’s rights” issues. This work had started already in the 1920s, but greatly intensified in the 1930s and they perceived greater success in their lobbying in the 1930s. The ICW used their political networks at the 1919 Peace Congress to demand women’s self-determination as a complement of national self-determination. Yet core countries such as the United States, Britain, Japan, and France insisted that women’s political status within each state was not a legitimate concern.77 According to Carol Miller, women’s organizations made the decision to turn to the international arena that the League of Nations provided in order to counter regressive changes taking place inside many countries. A successful example of this type of campaigning was the establishment of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality by the League of Nations in the early 1930s. The League did so in direct response to pressure from women’s organizations, in particular international coalitions of these, such as the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organizations (LCWIO). The Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality began its campaign for wives’ independent nationality status in 1930, in connection with a legal conference at The Hague sponsored by the League of Nations. This conference, the Codification Conference, met to establish worldwide standards of law on three issues: maritime law; states’ responsibilities for actions against foreigners; and universal, non-conflicting rules on nationality. This last was of concern to women activists, for as historian Ellen DuBois explains, the drive for independent nationality for married women combined two main feminist concerns: establishing full and equal citizenship for women, and undoing women’s marital disabilities (women who married foreign men lost their own nationality).78 Women were largely excluded from the official proceedings of the legal conference, as only two women had full delegate status, so women activists had to lobby from the outside, something they were used to doing. A group combining members from the IAW and the ICW organized an elaborate demonstration for the conference’s evening opening ceremonies. In response, the chairman of the Codification Conference, former Dutch prime minister Theodorus Heemskerk, reluctantly agreed to receive a small deputation of the women the next day at the Peace Palace and accept 112


a copy of their requests.79 As nothing came of the meeting, their hopes were now with a second group of women, this time from the United States and South American countries, who made another attempt to influence the Codification Conference. According to DuBois, these women were more familiar with activism in mixed-sex settings and also were bolder in their requests. Yet, despite their intense lobbying efforts, and the decision by the United States to vote against the recommendations by The Hague conference, the report favoring minimal changes in the law of married women’s nationality was passed on to Geneva for eventual ratification by member nations. This meant that the feminist nationality campaign now moved to the League of Nations itself and feminist activists descended on Geneva to try and halt ratification of the findings with respect to nationality of The Hague Codification Conference.80 WILPF placed a room at its Maison Internationale at the disposal of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality81 and its members lobbied national delegates about the inadequacies of The Hague recommendations.82 Lillian von Matsch, chair of the Sub-Committee for Propaganda of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, noted that “There was a noticeable increase in the recognition of the seriousness of the dissatisfaction of women with The Hague Nationality Convention, on the part of the delegates to the 1932 Assembly.”83 Indeed, at the vote in the plenary session of the Assembly, nine countries – Chile, China, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Mexico, Poland, and Turkey – abstained and in this way registered their protest against The Hague Nationality Convention. Yet the League adopted the Convention, and it was eventually ratified by the entire League in 1937. Disappointed that the changes did not extend as far as to grant women independent nationality rights, many of the US and South American activists, including prominent feminists such as Marta Vergara of Chile, decided to cease collaborating with the League.84 Nevertheless, the 1930s witnessed continued efforts on the part of women’s organizations to secure an Equal Rights Treaty via the League. Lobbying for this had begun in the mid-1920s, reflecting their belief in the common problems facing women worldwide. By the late 1930s it had become a vigorous campaign to demand a convention in which women’s civil, political, and legal status would be based on the equality of the sexes. In preparation for such a convention, and following a proposal by the president of the Swedish National Council of Women, Kerstin Hesselgren, in 1937 the League established a committee of experts. Women comprised the majority of the members of this committee, and it was charged with studying the national laws on which the status of women was based. However, the success of this effort, according to Carol Miller, was hampered by tensions among women stemming from their divergent conceptions of equality, that is, whether equality was to be achieved by giving women the same rights as men or by taking into account women’s differences. Such frictions did not dampen the belief of many of these women that their organizations were important. Although the League of Nations repeatedly rejected the demand for a Woman’s Charter and a separate body for Women’s Questions, the League’s Covenant did work toward gender equality by making positions in the League secretariat open to both sexes. This resulted in an important minority of highly qualified women inside the League administration, albeit in “second divisions”85 and occupying positions with less influence than their male counterparts. An example is Dame Rachel Crowdy, who held the highest post of any woman in the League bureaucracy, as the administrator of its Social Section. This department was allegedly seen as being in charge of matters of 113


“soft politics,” such as protection of children and trafficking of women. Moreover, Crowdy was never given the title of director, a rank bestowed on her male replacement in 1930.86 Women were also eligible to serve as their countries’ delegates to the League, or as experts on its advisory commissions. Over two decades of League of Nations activity, 17 women served as delegates to the League General Assembly. Indeed, individual women’s footholds in intergovernmental politics and the activism of women’s international organizations were both important characteristics of the interwar period.87 Other successes for women’s activism included the League’s decision in the mid-1930s to view the regulation of vice as an exceptional measure against women and to condemn it. The IAW was happy to take credit for this League decision, claiming it in its 1935 congress report.88 It is important to note that these women placed their faith in twentiethcentury international law, institutions, and practice as the way to improve their collective gender status, as well as to achieve peace, humanitarianism, and social justice.89 These female activists gained invaluable experience through their work with the League of Nations. Indeed, their various campaigns during the interwar period, ranging from disarmament to equal nationality to men, were essentially about human rights. These campaigns laid the foundations for the establishment of human rights and women’s rights in later decades, through a new organization: the United Nations. An examination of women’s activism in the interwar period shows that United Nations-era work for women’s rights, including the Convention Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), were foreshadowed in the campaigns by these interwar international female activists.90

Challenges to internationalisms While internationalisms clearly enjoyed support from diverse groups of people and gained ground in the interwar period, it was nationalisms that reigned supreme.91 By the late 1930s, the factors working against internationalism and pacifism were stronger than those working in favor, and the League of Nations remained unrepresentative and without much power.92 Male politicians’ and the public’s – and even women’s – mixed responses to women’s active roles in the 1930s peace movements reflected that larger context. While women activists’ extensive work for peace through disarmament during the 1930s received recognition and individual women were publicly honored in a range of ways, some viewed these women’s commitment to internationalism as naive and even unpatriotic. Newspapers at the time highlighted how women occupied center stage at the League of Nations’ disarmament conference. The appointment of IAW president Margery Corbett Ashby as substitute member of the British delegation to the disarmament conference was covered extensively in the press. WILPF president Jane Addams received the ultimate accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1931, to great public attention. Yet while women’s activity was much noted in the press at the time, few histories of the League of Nations credit women’s contributions to the disarmament campaign and the 1931 Geneva Conference. Some statesmen of the period, such as British prime minister at the time Ramsay MacDonald, were interested in women’s work for peace, yet also suggested that the women were naive in their quest for peace. Of course, opinions were sharply divided on the best course of action for dealing with the instabilities of the interwar years. WILPF was from its inception committed to uprooting the fundamental causes of war, including 114


inequality, oppression, and exploitation, and it stood out among peace organizations for its political (but not party-political) approach to peace. Often attacked for its positions and activism, in the United States WILPF was targeted as “red” and “unpatriotic.” Domestic attitudes such as these, in addition to the already difficult international political climate, made WILPF’s work for peace especially challenging in the 1930s. There were disappointments at the failure of the Disarmament Conferences. Margery Corbett Ashby resigned from the British committee in 1935, claiming that “My two years as UK substitute delegate to this conference were the most miserable of my life.”93 Towards the end of the 1930s, a contributor to Pax described disappointment at the lack of an “international spirit” inside WILPF. Even though there was no shortage of international organizations and conferences, this contributor claimed, the spirit of international “preparedness” was hollow and had become “degraded to national interests” compared with 20 or 30 years ago.94 It is true that the impact of the disarmament campaign was limited, the League of Nations was inefficient in dealing with the Manchurian, Ethiopian, and Spanish crises,95 and the international political and economic situation deteriorated further towards the end of the decade. At the same time as Europe’s collapse into another war began to seem inevitable, demands for national independence elsewhere were destabilizing Western empires. These demands challenged many non-Western women’s commitment to international feminism. The 1930s therefore saw an increase in regional cooperation among women outside the parameters of Europe, in the context of growing resentment of colonialism. An All-Asian Women’s Conference was held in Lahore in 1931, for example, and similar gatherings were also organized in Damascus and Tehran by Middle Eastern feminists.96 Meanwhile, most major international women’s organizations remained silent on the issue of colonial empire, a choice shaped by the organizations’ non-political stance as well as the fact that Western women continued to dominate the organizations. WILPF stood apart with its markedly “progressive” stance on international relations and inequalities. Nonetheless, even WILPF’s peace work and international expansion were affected by conflicts and disputes in colonies, and those prevented local female activists from making full commitments to WILPF’s principle of opposing every kind of war.

Conclusion Women from many different backgrounds joined in action following the Great War to prevent another one. This broad movement for peace and humanism was truly international in character. During the 1930s in particular, disarmament became an urgent concern, and many different groups came together in fighting for this cause above all else. International women’s organizations took the lead in this campaign. This meant that work for disarmament and peace was often prioritized over work for women’s equality, such as the activism concerning women’s legal status in marriage or equal employment rights that had preoccupied earlier activists. In the aftermath of World War I, major international women’s organizations such as the ICW, IAW, and WILPF all expanded. They shared a growing interest in nonWestern regions of the world and a desire to establish new affiliations where none had previously existed. Conferences took on a more visibly international character and became an ideal place in which to forge connections and establish friendships that 115


crossed national borders. Such gatherings reinforced the belief that the similarities among women outweighed any differences separating them. For these women, it was their marginalization that united them, and also their strong belief that international cooperation would solve the most pressing issues of the time. International women’s organizations started to work with the League of Nations very soon after its creation in 1920. Their cooperation with the League intensified during the 1930s, largely because the League provided them with a new international platform that allowed them to reach a larger audience with their concerns about peace and women’s rights. While the cause of peace had been a unifying force already in the 1920s, peace became considerably more urgent in the 1930s due to the serious world situation. As the 1930s progressed, the agendas of these international women’s organizations converged. The similarities among their programmes allowed for greater collaboration and increased the significance of internationalism and coalitions between different international organizations. While women were united in their quest for peace and disarmament, they did not agree on the methods to reach those goals. Many chose to prioritize peace above all else, moving away from their focus on women’s rights, while others continued to pursue both agendas side by side. There were also those who did not wish to cooperate with intergovernmental organizations such as the League of Nations, as they saw them working against women, as illustrated, for example, by their disappointment with the nationality campaign. These activists believed that differences between men and women were socially constructed and stressed similarities between the sexes, and believed that more radical change was required to combat these institutionalized inequalities. Moreover, the cooperation among women was never really that of straightforwardly equal partners. These organizations comprised women with diverse ideas and aims and were hierarchical. These international women’s organizations’ commitment to transnational cooperation among women and to the League of Nations persisted in the face of the complexities of the interwar period. The main aim of this cooperation was an end to all wars, and also, for many women, to establish equality between the sexes. Indeed, these international women’s organizations had different ideas about what feminism signified and how useful it was for their campaigns. Yet all of these organizations were united in their desire to improve the lives and status of women wherever they lived in the world. And despite their varied foci on political, social, educational, and/or legal rights, and their debates over emphasizing “equality” or “difference,” it could be argued that the international organizations under scrutiny here all moved, to varying degrees, toward broader definitions of feminism, and humanism with an emphasis on peace during the difficult interwar period. The peace question resulted in new commitments to what we can in hindsight describe as humanism, understood as the care for all humanity and everyone’s right to determine their own goals and values. As another war approached and eventually engulfed Europe, these organizations’ contribution to peace work took on a practical and humanitarian dimension that was nonetheless international: assistance to refugees. The solidarity that stemmed from women’s continued marginalization and their firm commitment to internationalism and humanism continued to unite many of them in activism, not only during the challenging 1930s decade but during World War II itself and beyond. 116


Notes 1 This was arranged by distributing articles via neutral countries such as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. See Sybil Oldfield, “Mary Sheepshank Edits an International Suffrage Monthly in Wartime: Jus Suffragii 1914–19,” Women’s History Review, 2003, vol. 12, no. 1, 119–34. 2 Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin, “Rethinking the History of Internationalism,” in Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin (eds.) Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 9. 3 Sluga and Clavin, “Rethinking,” p. 10. 4 For example, one of the earliest and most influential women’s temperance organizations was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in 1874 in the United States. The WCTU fought against alcohol, which they blamed for many social ills, including immorality, as well as against war. They embraced Christian and family values as well as advocating social reform and women’s emancipation. From its inception, the WCTU advocated internationalism and organized world conventions from the 1870s onwards. See Ian Tyrrell, Woman’s World, Woman’s Empire: The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880–1930, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. 5 International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship (IAWSEC), Report of the Twelfth Congress, Istanbul, 18–24 April 1935, London: IAWSEC, 1935; International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship (IAWSEC), Report of the Thirteenth Congress, Copenhagen, 8–14 July 1939, Ashford, Kent: IAWSEC, 1939. 6 At the 1932 Disarmament Conference, Dingman stressed that their greatest determination came to them as mothers, for women wanted to ensure that their children’s lives would be free from war. Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organizations (DCWIO), Official Record of the Declarations and Petitions Presented by the Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organizations to the Disarmament Conference Geneva 1932, Geneva: DCWIO, 1932, pp. 31–2. 7 Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 13. 8 As pointed out in Sluga and Clavin, “Rethinking,” p. 62. 9 See for example Roland Burke, “The Internationalism of Human Rights,” in Sluga and Clavin, Internationalisms, pp. 287–314. 10 Catherine Foster, Women for All Seasons: The Story of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989, pp. 7–11. 11 Rupp, Worlds of Women, p. 27. 12 Foster, Women for All Seasons, p. 12. 13 Sybil Oldfield (ed.), International Woman Suffrage: Ius suffragii, 1913–1920, London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 15–17, 119–34; Rupp, Worlds of Women, p. 26. 14 Rupp, Worlds of Women, pp. 15–21. 15 Oldfield, International Woman Suffrage, p. 15; Foster, Women for All Seasons, p. 7; Rupp, Worlds of Women, pp. 19, 27, 90–1. 16 Glenda Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” in Sluga and Clavin, Internationalisms, p. 65. 17 Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” p. 65. 18 Rupp, Worlds of Women, pp. 90–1. 19 WILPF, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 1915–1938: A Venture in Internationalism, Geneva: Women’s International League, 1938. 20 WILPF, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 1915–1938: A Venture, p. 12. 21 Rebecca Sherrick, “Toward Universal Sisterhood,” Women’s Studies International Forum, 1982, vol. 5, no. 9, 656. 22 Karen Hunt, “‘The Immense Meaning of it All’: The Challenges of Internationalism for British Socialist Women before the First World War,” Socialist History, 2000, vol. 17, 22–42. See also June Hannam and Karen Hunt, Socialist Women: Britain, 1880s to 1920s, London: Routledge, 2002. 23 ICW, Combined Third and Fourth Annual Report of the Seventh Quinquennial Period, 1922–1924, compiled by Fru Anna Backer, Hon. Corresponding Secretary, n.p.: ICW, 1924; ICW, Report of the Quinquennial Meeting. Washington, 1925, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, President of the ICW (ed.) London: ICW, 1926; IAWSEC, Report of the Tenth Congress, La Sorbonne, Paris, France,





26 27 28 29 30 31

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30 May–6 June 1926, London: London Caledonian Press, 1926; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Report of the Third International Congress of Women, Vienna, 10–17 July 1921, Geneva and Vienna: WILPF, 1921; WILPF, Report of the Fourth Congress, Washington, 1–7 May 1924, Washington and Geneva: WILPF US Section, 1924; WILPF, Report of the Fifth Congress, Dublin, 8–15 July 1926, Washington and Geneva: WILPF, 1926; WILPF, Report of the Sixth Congress, Prague, 24–28 August 1929, Geneva: WILPF, 1929. The exceptions were Argentina (joined ICW in 1901) and China (society affiliated with IWSA in 1913). However, Chinese women did not attend the congress in Budapest in 1913 nor the one in Geneva in 1920, arriving late due to travel difficulties. See IWSA, Report of the Eighth Congress, Geneva, Switzerland, 6–12 June 1920, Manchester: Percy Brothers, 1920, p. 22; Rupp, Worlds of Women, p. 16. ICW, Report of the Quinquennial Meeting. Washington, 1925. IWSA, Report of the Ninth Congress, Rome, Italy, 12–19 May 1923, Dresden: B. G. Teubner, 1923. IAWSEC, Report of the Tenth Congress, La Sorbonne, Paris, France, 30 May–6 June 1926, London: London Caledonian Press; IAWSEC, Report of the Eleventh Congress, Berlin, 17–22 June 1929, London: IAWSEC, 1929. IWSA, Report of the Eighth Congress, Geneva, Switzerland, 6–12 June 1920. IWSA, Report of the Ninth Congress, Rome, Italy, 12–19 May 1923. Adele Schreiber and Margaret Mathieson, Journey Towards Freedom. Written for the Golden Jubilee of the International Alliance of Women, Copenhagen: IAW, 1955, p. 34. IAWSEC, Report of the Tenth Congress, La Sorbonne, Paris, France, 30 May–6 June 1926; IAWSEC, Report of the Eleventh Congress, Berlin, 17–22 June 1929. More than one society per country was allowed to affiliate. IAWSEC, Report of the Tenth Congress, La Sorbonne, Paris, France, 30 May–6 June 1926; Huda Shaarawi, Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879–1924), Margot Badran (ed. and trans.), New York: Feminist Press, 1986. WILPF, Report of the Internaitonal Congress of Women in Zurich, 1919, Geneva: WILPF, 1919; WILPF, Report of the Third International Congress of Women, Vienna, 10–17 July 1921; WILPF, Report of the International Conference of Women at The Hague, 7–9 December 1922. Organized by WILPF, London and Geneva, 1922; WILPF, Report of the Fourth Congress, Washington, 1–7 May 1924; WILPF, Report of the Fifth Congress, Dublin, 8–15 July 1926; WILPF, Report of the Sixth Congress, Prague, 24–28 August 1929. WILPF, Report of the Fourth Congress, Washington, 1–7 May 1924; WILPF, Report of the Fifth Congress, Dublin, 8–15 July 1926; “Prague Congress,” Pax International, 1929, vol. 4, no. 10. Karl Holl, “History of Peace Movements,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2001, 11147–51. IAWSEC, Report of the Thirteenth Congress, Copenhagen, 8–14 July 1939, Ashford, UK: IAWSEC, 1939. Foster, Women for All Seasons, p. 22. See George W. Baer, “Sanctions and Security: The League of Nations and the ItalianEthiopian War, 1935–36,” International Organization, 1973, vol. 27, no. 2, 165–79. Gothenburg University Library, Gothenburg, Sweden, Kvinnohistoriska Samlingarna (hereafter GUL-KS), Internationella kvinnoförbundet för fred och frihet (IKFF), EI: 2, Utländska brev 1920-talet. Gabrielle Duchêne, “The League Must Not Go Backward” and Marguerite Gobat, “The Danger of Crystalization,” Pax International, 1926, vol. 1, no. 7. GUL-KS, IKFF, EI: 2, Utländska brev 1920-talet. Richard Olney has pointed out that formal manuscript records such as committee meetings might have been “constructively” written to record what should have been said rather than what was actually discussed. See Richard J. Olney, Manuscript Sources for British History: Their Nature, Location and Use, London: Institute of Historical Research, 1995. In 1935 the International Archives for the Women’s Movement (Internationaal Archief voor de Vrouwenbeweging, IAV) was set up in Amsterdam. One of the cofounders was Rosa Manus, long-term vice president of the IAW and also active in other international women’s organizations. The official goal of the IAV was “to further the knowledge and scientific study of the women’s movement in the broadest sense of the world.” It enjoyed support from women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Margery Corbett Ashby (IAW presidents 1904–23 and




43 44 45 46


48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

1923–46 respectively). In 1940, the IAV was closed by German officials and much of its material disappeared. However, it reopened in 1947 and in 2003 some of the lost material, which had ended up in Moscow, was returned to the Netherlands. See Francisca de Haan, “Getting to the Source: A ‘Truly International’ Archive for the Women’s Movement (IAV, now IIAV): From its Foundation in Amsterdam in 1935 to the Return of its Looted Archives in 2003,” Journal of Women’s History, 2004, vol. 16, no. 4, 148–72. This discussion has been influenced by Jane Martin’s “Feminist Teachers and Social Action: The Case of City Politics” and Jane McDermid’s “A Public Life: Grace Paterson, Educationalist and Suffragist,” research papers presented at the 15th Annual Conference of the Women’s History Network, “Thinking Women: Education, Culture and Society,” 1–3 September 2006, Collingwood College, University of Durham. See Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, “Forging Feminist Identity in an International Movement: A Collective Identity Approach to Twentieth-Century Feminism,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1999, vol. 24, no. 2, 376, 380–1. Andrew Webster, “The League of Nations, Disarmament and Internationalism,” in Sluga and Clavin, Internationalisms, p. 140. Webster, “The League of Nations,” pp. 140, 145. “Appeal of Women to the World’s Statesmen,” signed by Ishbel Aberdeen and Temair (ICW), Jane Addams (WILFP), C.M. van Asch van Wyck (WYWCA), M. I. Corbett Ashby (IAWSEC), Clara Guthrie D’Arcis (WUWIC), and Winifred Cullis (IFUW), Pax International, 1930, vol. 5, no. 11. Schreiber and and Mathieson, Journey Towards Freedom, p. 51; WILPF, Report of the Seventh Congress, Grenoble, 15–19 May 1932, Geneva: WILPF, 1932; WILPF, Report of the Ninth Congress, Luhacovice, Czechoslovakia, 27–31 July 1937, Geneva: WILPF, 1937; Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, Women in a Changing World: The Dynamic Story of the International Council of Women Since 1888, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966, pp. 64–70; Mary Grey Peck, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography, New York: H. W. Wilson, 1944, p. 454; IAWSEC, Report of the Twelfth Congress, Istanbul, 18–24 April 1935; International Council of Women Bulletin, 1934, vol. 13, no. 1; Fusae Ichikawa Memorial Association Library, Tokyo, Japan, Japanese Women’s Suffrage Movement Collection I 1918–46, document no. 0213–14: Katherine Bompas (IAWSEC headquarters secretary) to Fusae Ichikawa; ICW, Report on the Quinquennial Meeting, Vienna, 1930, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, President of the ICW (ed.), Tarland: ICW, 1930. London School of Economics and Political Science, London, Women’s Library (hereafter LSE-WL), Margery Corbett Ashby Papers (hereafter MCA Papers), Disarmament Conference Correspondence 1931–5, Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organisations, “Appeal.” WILPF, Report of the Seventh Congress, Grenoble, 15–19 May 1932. Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organizations, Official Record of the Declarations and Petitions presented by the Disarmament Committee of the Women’s International Organizations to the Disarmament Conference, Geneva: DCWIO, 1932, pp. 31–2. Webster, “The League of Nations,” pp. 144–5. League of Nations, Conference for the Reduction and Limitations of Armaments, Collaboration of Women in the Organisation of Peace, Geneva, February 12th, 1932. Series IX. Disarmament, Geneva: League of Nations, 1932. Carol Miller, “‘Geneva – The Key to Equality’: Interwar Feminists and the League of Nations,” Women’s History Review, 1994, vol. 3, no. 2, 219–45. IAWSEC, Report of the Twelfth Congress, Istanbul, 18–24 April 1935. WILPF Newsletter, 1939, vol. 14, no. 8, 5. Christine Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class and Internationalism in the American and British Women’s Movements, c.1880s–1970s, London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 69–75. Maria DiCenzo and Alexis Motuz, “Politicizing the Home: Welfare Feminism and the Feminist Press in Interwar Britain,” Women: A Cultural Review, 2016, vol. 27, no. 4, 378–96. Most scholars use the terms “new feminism” and “equalitarian” or “egalitarian feminism.” See for example Cheryl Law, Suffrage and Power: The Women’s Movement, 1918–1928, London: I. B. Tauris, 2000 and Susan Kingsley Kent, “The Politics of Sexual Difference: World War I and the Demise of British Feminism,” Journal of British Studies, 1988, vol. 27, no. 3, 232–53. Karen Offen has reworked this terminology in favor of “relational” and “individualist”





61 62 63

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69 70 71 72 73 74

75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82

feminism: Karen Offen, “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1988, vol. 14, no. 1, 119–57. For further discussion of these terms, see Wendy Sarvasy, “Beyond the Difference versus Equality Policy Debate: Postsuffrage Feminism, Citizenship, and the Quest for a Feminist Welfare State,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1992, vol. 17, no. 2, 329–62. According to Offen, who refers to it as “relational feminism,” it had been the dominant line of argument in much of the West prior to the twentieth century, while “individualist feminism” arguments had characterized specifically Anglo-American feminism. Offen, “Defining Feminism.” During the interwar period several organizations and individuals tried to draw attention to what we today view as human rights violations. They did not use this term themselves. See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, and Mary Rumsey, The Development of International Human Rights Law, vol. 1, Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, pp. 3–56. Rupp, Worlds of Women, p. 133. DiCenzo and Motuz, “Politicizing the Home.” This supports Catriona Beaumont’s findings. She has shown how so-called mainstream women’s organizations in interwar Britain preferred to employ the terminology of “citizenship” rather than “feminism” to argue for enhancing women’s status in society, as they believed that the latter was unpopular at that time. Catriona Beaumont, “Citizens not Feminists: The Boundary Negotiated between Citizenship and Feminism by Mainstream Women’s Organizations in England, 1928–39,” Women’s History Review, 2000, vol. 9, no. 2, 415. Foster, Women for All Seasons, pp. 17–18. Carrie Chapman Catt to Rosa Manus, 17 July 1935, in Mineke Bosch with Annemarie Kloosterman (eds.) Politics and Friendship: Letters from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, 1902–1942, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990, p. 234. Rupp, Worlds of Women, p. 133. Miller, “Geneva – The Key to Equality,” 224. Lady Rhondda was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Women’s Freedom League, and was founder of both the Six Point Group and Open Door International. See Elisabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928, London: UCL Press, 1999, pp. 211, 256, and Angela V. John, Turning the Tide: The Life of Lady Rhondda, Cardigan, Wales: Partian, 2013. See the essay by Eileen Boris and Jane Jensen in this volume. Deborah Stienstra, Women’s Movements and International Organizations, London: Macmillan, 1994, p. 66. Foster, Women for All Seasons, p. 18. WILPF, Report of the Ninth Congress, Luhacovice, Czechoslovakia, 27–31 July 1937, Geneva: WILPF, 1937; “The Grenoble Congress,” Pax International, 1932, vol. 7, no. 7. Foster, Women for All Seasons, pp. 21–2. Among others: British Commonwealth League, British Women’s Temperance Association, Scottish Christian Union, National Council for Equal Citizenship, Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organizations, and Union of Jewish Women. Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History (hereafter SC-SSC), Josephine Schain Papers (hereafter JS Papers), Women’s Peace Crusade, Box 11, File 3. SC-SSC, JS Papers, Women’s Peace Crusade Correspondence, Courtney, Kathleen, 1929–40, Kathleen Courtney to Josephine Schain, 14 March 1936. Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned? p. 140. Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” p. 67. Ellen C. DuBois, “Storming The Hague: The 1930 Campaign for Independent Nationality for Women Regardless of Marital Status,” Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies, 2013, vol.16, no. 4, 18. DuBois, “Storming The Hague,” 20–2. DuBois, “Storming The Hague,” 24–5. Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality and 1932 League Assembly, Final Report by Lillian von Matsch, Chairman of Sub-Committee for Propaganda of the Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, Created by the League of Nations. Reprinted in Equal Rights, 10 December 1932. Ellen C. DuBois, “Storming The Hague,” 25.



83 Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality and 1932 League Assembly, Final Report by Lillian von Matsch. 84 Ellen C. DuBois, “Storming The Hague,” 26–7. 85 Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” p. 68. 86 Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” pp. 68–9. “Soft politics” is mentioned on p. 68. 87 Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” pp. 68–70. 88 IAWSEC, Report of the Twelfth Congress, Istanbul, 18–24 April 1935. 89 Sluga, “Women, Feminism and Twentieth-Century Internationalism,” p. 84. 90 Ellen C. DuBois, “Storming The Hague,” 27–8. 91 Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in an Era of Nationalism, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 92 Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned? p. 142. 93 LSE-WL, MCA Papers, Disarmament Conference Correspondence, “Disarmament Conference in Geneva 1932/33.” 94 L. G. H., “International Community – World Citizenship,” Pax International, 1939, vol. 14, no. 2. 95 Bolt, Sisterhood Questioned? p. 142. 96 See SC-SSC, Countries Collection, All-Asian Women’s Conference Box 3, File 1, All-Asian Women’s Conference, First Session, Lahore 19–25 January 1931, Bombay: Times of India Press, 1931 and Charlotte Weber, “Between Nationalism and Feminism: The Eastern Women’s Congresses of 1930 and 1932,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 2008, vol. 4, no. 1, 83–106.


7 T H E “ RIGHTS OF MAN ” A N D S E X E Q U A L IT Y International human rights discourses in the 1930s Regula Ludi

The United Nations (UN) Charter is the first legal document to recognize individual freedom and equality as a cornerstone of the international order. In its preamble, it famously affirms “faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women” and specifically emphasizes the principle of nondiscrimination by expressing respect “for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”1 These oftencited phrases institutionalized new language in international relations and shaped the ways in which future UN bodies would conceive of provisions for the protection of individuals. At the same time, they strikingly echoed legal terminology of the interwar era, such as the guarantee of equality for all citizens “without distinction as to language, race and religion,” which had been included in the minority treaties of 1919–20.2 In borrowing such vocabulary, the architects of the emerging UN system in 1945 tied international human rights to interwar struggles and organized them around a concept of equality specified as nondiscrimination. Yet they also made an important amendment: they added “sex” to the list of inadmissible reasons for legal distinctions. Though groundbreaking, this innovation has not attracted much attention in human rights historiography.3 Perhaps, adding equal rights for men and women to the human rights catalogue was just too obvious to require further explanation – “natural enough,” as Dorothy Kenyon, the first US delegate to the newly created UN Commission on the Status of Women, in 1947 suggested. Betraying her own uncertainty, however, Kenyon continued by claiming that it was clear that “women are people, that they are human beings with human rights like every other human being, and that it is hardly possible to promote human rights without promoting women’s rights as well.”4 Why this explication? Was it maybe not as obvious that “women’s rights are human rights” as Kenyon tried to make her audience believe?5 There was indeed disagreement in 1945 as to whether sex equality qualified as a human rights norm. Hersh Lauterpacht, a highly respected authority in the field, denied that discrimination against women was a problem that could be solved “within the framework of a general international instrument” because it was “intimately connected with the legal tradition, the social conditions, and the state of public opinion on this subject in various countries.”6 His voice was by no means an isolated one. Research shows that the recognition of sex equality in the UN Charter required concerted lobbying efforts by female delegates and civil society activists present at the San 122


Francisco Conference.7 Similarly, the use of gender-neutral language and the consideration of women’s claims were anything but self-evident in the subsequent drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.8 The apparent discrepancy between these two viewpoints – the supposed evidence of the claim to universal equality blazoned by Kenyon on the one hand and the social rootedness informing Lauterpacht’s reservations on the other – signified that the insertion of gender equality in the human rights catalogue was indeed revolutionary, marking a discontinuity in the conception of international obligations and entitlements.9 On the other hand, considering equal rights for men and women “natural” implied that these claims smoothly fit in the dominant way of talking about equality as nondiscrimination. In other words, the human rights revolution of 1945 drew on a discourse about rights and international responsibilities that had unfolded in previous decades and spawned a political imagery that permitted the articulation of new connections between normative concepts. How did this relationship emerge? And in what ways did interwar discourses frame the imaginary associated with human rights? In revisiting the interwar era, this essay aims to fill a gap. Most of the recent literature dealing with the international breakthrough of human rights has paid little attention to events preceding World War II. In their efforts to underline discontinuity, authors tend to draw a sharp line between international obligations under the League of Nations, such as minority protection, and later innovations of the emerging UN system favoring individuals. They focus their explanations for the sudden rise of human rights on the prospective benefits key players expected from endorsing the new norms.10 Human rights, of course, did not exist as international law guarantees before 1945. Nor did interwar debates provide direct precedents for the emerging UN system, as some of the older literature has suggested.11 But human rights were nonetheless present. They constituted a political language that shaped claims and organized debate by framing the relationship between the individual and the collective and between state power and the international community. This language was premised on ontological assumptions about human nature and agency. It also carried unspoken beliefs about the essence of civilization that were fraught with the contradictions of interwar internationalism and its entanglement with empire.12 This essay is accordingly based on the methodological premise that the human rights revolution was very much about language, the political imagery of words, and the manner in which concepts resonated with different constituencies. Each of the key phrases in the UN Charter, such as “equal rights,” “fundamental freedom,” and “the dignity and worth of the human person,” was reminiscent of previous political struggles and intellectual traditions.13 And each of them was saturated with meaning intimately linked to its history as an ideal or battle cry in people’s quest for justice. To explore the shifts in the imagery flowing from such concepts and the reshaping of human rights, I will first address the international emergence of the “rights of man” in the late 1920s and that concept’s role in framing the notion of nondiscrimination. Second, I will examine the new significance these claims attained in 1933–4 in response to the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany. The last section of this essay is dedicated to the formative impact that feminist campaigns of the 1930s had on the concept of equality that ensued. The literature up to the present day entertains the assumption that women’s rights and human rights were two separate issues and, until 1945, followed their own routes, each guided by its own logic. Taking a fresh look at these events will shed new light on the 123


interconnections between human rights advocacy and feminist campaigns while also illuminating continuities between interwar internationalism and the UN system that have been long recognized by the literature on transnational feminism.14 The focus on conceptual history requires some remarks on terminology. The concept of gender, of course, did not exist in the period covered by this essay. Instead, authors would generally use the term “sex” no matter what ideas they had about the origins and significance of gender difference. I will therefore use sex when referring to the period’s usage. Similar considerations apply to the term “human rights.” In English and French documents of the 1920s and 1930s, the generic term was “rights of man” or “droits de l’homme” respectively. Unlike “Menschenrechte” in German, these expressions were not gender-neutral; they had a male bias and required specification. Such definition, however, always engendered the risk of inadvertently stressing the aspect of difference, a dilemma that has haunted women’s engagement with human rights ever since Olympe de Gouges’ “Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne” of 1791.15

The international declaration of the rights of man: a conversation among experts A future historian of our era will pay full attention to one aspect epitomizing legal consciousness of the postwar period, that is the idea of the international significance of human rights and the belief that their protection lies within the authority of international law.16 Informed readers would not be surprised to find such an observation in documents of the late 1940s. But the remark dates from an article of 1930, written by Boris MirkineGuetzevitch, a Russian emigrant specializing in comparative law and referring to trends of the previous decade. In hindsight, this vision may appear naively optimistic. However, its positive outlook was a fair reflection of opinions about the progressive potential of international law that many of Mirkine-Guetzevitch’s colleagues shared. They were convinced they would witness the imminent breakthrough and consolidation of individual rights in international affairs.17 Maurice Bourquin, for example, a Belgian professor of international law, predicted in 1931 that the current evolution “is pushing us toward the international recognition of human rights.”18 Such optimism did not lack justification. Even skeptics at that time admitted that the importance of the individual in international relations had tremendously swelled since the Great War, being “one of the most discussed [issues] in our discipline,” according to Jean Spiropoulos, another professor of international law.19 Humanitarian action had identified diverse groups of people as worthy of international attention: Minority treaties, though fraught with countless difficulties when it came to their implementation, recognized the rights of collectives as well as those of individuals. The 1926 Slavery Convention and the 1921 Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children outlawed practices inimical to personal freedom and established rudimentary machinery for international cooperation in fighting such abuses. Various refugee conventions, finally, protected selected groups of persons forced out of their home countries by events of persecution and civil war. Based on that record, André Mandelstam, a former Russian diplomat living in exile, concluded that “when it comes 124


to the universal recognition of human rights, we are facing a great transformation in international affairs, a complete reassessment of the relationship between the state and the human being.”20 In reality, none of the cited examples constituted anything comparable to fullfledged human rights guarantees. Some conventions, such as the anti-slavery and antitrafficking norms, imposed more or less binding obligations on the ratifying states. They also engendered an international language to talk about abuses in the idiom of innate rights. But except for specific provisions in the minority treaties none of these documents codified rights of the individual. And despite the predictions of leading scholars at the time, they failed to bring about a lasting pattern. The League of Nations’ humanitarian regime was designed to be transient and, as the historian Bruno Cabanes argues, established no rights and no universal claims. Instead, international assistance benefited only narrowly defined groups of vulnerable people and was meant to phase out once the humanitarian crises had ebbed.21 The creation of the League of Nations filled international law specialists with a new sense of mission. It animated their faith in international law as a means for promoting individual welfare and encouraging progressive reform. This movement was spearheaded by the International Law Institute (ILI), founded in 1873 in Ghent as an offspring of the period’s liberal internationalism and uniting academics and diplomats from Europe, the Americas, and Japan in the interwar period.22 In the 1920s, individual members of the ILI started propagating the guarantee of individual rights as a remedy for agonizing problems in international relations such as the situations of minorities and the stateless. Both grievances resulted from the territorial changes at the end of World War I and the Versailles settlement, which imposed the obligation to protect minorities in states that emerged from the collapse of multiethnic empires in central and eastern Europe. The League of Nations was charged with the supervision of these treaties. The League of Nations minority regime quickly morphed into a source of endless complaints. Governments liable to treaty obligations resented the attached restrictions on their national sovereignty, and starting in the early 1920s they strove unsuccessfully for a revision of the system. For minorities, on the other hand, the emerging practice was a mixed blessing, as it was toothless when it came to rectifying injuries and often counterproductive when it exposed particularly vulnerable groups to new prejudice.23 As early as 1921, the ILI formed a special commission to tackle these challenges. Headed by André Mandelstam, this committee reached the conclusion that minority protection was caught in an impasse and that international human rights would be the most elegant way to overcome this predicament. Mandelstam prepared a draft declaration designed to kill two birds with one stone, that is, to enhance the position of individuals and at the same time to silence the governments liable to treaty obligations. According to Mandelstam such a document would constitute a compromise that guaranteed a minimal standard by universalizing the individual rights that were already contained in the minority treaties.24 Portraying human rights as an extension of the logic guiding minority protection – a frequent selling point – was obviously meant to dispel the impression of any break with previous state practice.25 At the same time, human rights could be characterized as a pragmatic remedy that would be the “smaller evil” than many other proposals for reform of the minority regime.26 The ILI adopted Mandelstam’s draft, entitled “Déclaration des Droits Internationaux de l’Homme,” in October 1929 at its annual session in Briarcliff Manor, New York.27 Often referred to as the New York Declaration, this document subscribed to the 125


constitutional tradition of the eighteenth-century Atlantic revolutions and, according to its preamble, aimed to protect the individual “against all encroachment on the part of the state.” It contained no more than six articles, with its first article stating every individual’s equal right to life, liberty, and property “without any distinction as to nationality, sex, race, language, or religion.” The second article addressed religious freedom, the third provided for the free use of language, and the fourth article required state authorities to grant their nationals equal civil and political rights and access to public education, professions, and economic activity without any restrictions based on “the distinction of sex, race, language and religion.” Article 5 fleshed out the nondiscrimination principle by stating that the envisaged equality may not be merely formal; it was to be “effective. It excludes any direct or indirect discrimination.” Article 6 prohibited states from depriving individuals of their citizenship for reasons of “sex, race, language and religion.”28 The rights of man enshrined in the New York Declaration may appear to be a list of seemingly timeless commandments of universal ethics, but in fact they were devised as a solution for specific problems of the day such as minority protection and statelessness. They reflected historical experiences and pertinent power relations through their careful phrasing chosen not to offend colonial powers or not to impose on states burdensome obligations of social and economic rights, although some of the period’s more ambitious projects did include those.29 The rights of man could be boiled down to an idea of equality modeled on the minority treaties and defined by the principle of nondiscrimination. No fewer than three of the declaration’s six articles almost literally quoted from the provision included in the minority treaties according to which all citizens “shall be equal before the law and shall enjoy the same civil and political rights without distinction as to race, language or religion.”30 For obvious reasons, members of the ILI celebrated the New York Declaration as a “remarkable” document that was “epoch-making” and initiated a “revolutionary” turn in international law.31 It did not resonate beyond the small circle of academics and reach a larger public, however. It is true that in the early 1930s a number of transnational organizations such as the Académie Diplomatique Internationale, the International Federation of League of Nations Societies, and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme expressed their support, mostly at the instigation of André Mandelstam, and of other protagonists of international guarantees for individual rights such as Boris Mirkine-Guetzevitch and Antoine Frangulis.32 Also, it happened under new conditions that would be critical for propelling the rights of man into the international arena.

A cry of desperation: human rights entering the international arena In 1933, as the New York Declaration made its way into the League of Nations, a series of disastrous developments dispelled the optimistic mood of previous years. The industrialized world suffered from surging unemployment in the wake of the Great Depression. Governments’ preference for austerity and protectionism failed to revive the economy and fueled social tensions. In international relations, the failure to settle the Manchurian crisis was eroding confidence in the League of Nations’ capacity for conflict resolution. In early 1933, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany further destabilized an already fragile international situation. The new regime’s anti-Semitism and brutal crackdown on its political opponents drove tens of thousands of Germans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, 126


into exile. Under those dismal conditions, the appeal to international human rights was no longer a move of progressive imagination but rather an expression of utter desperation and a last resort for Jews in Germany who were left with no defense against state-sponsored abuse.33 In the spring of 1933, Jewish organizations filed the famous Bernheim petition. Their move relied on unique provisions of the Upper Silesia Treaty, which permitted non-state actors to put the plight of German Jews on the League of Nations’ agenda and frame their grievances as a matter of international concern.34 Occasionally interpreted as a proto-human rights claim, the petition in fact aimed at expanding minority protection and forcing the Nazi regime to recognize its Jewish citizens as a group entitled to international guarantees. But chances were faint for the petition to find the approval of the international community, let alone the consent of the Third Reich, then still a member of the League of Nations. Since the Nazis’ rise to power, the German government had made a rapid about-face from having once been an ardent supporter of minority protection to being a rigid defender of domestic jurisdiction over against foreign intervention. The German government loudly denounced international criticism of its treatment of Jews as impermissible meddling in internal affairs.35 Thus the strategy deployed with the Bernheim petition was a hopeless cause, although it did mobilize public opinion by providing democratic governments a welcome opportunity to condemn Nazi persecution in the League of Nations without any pressure to act upon their proclamations, first in May 1933 in the League Council, and then in the fall of 1933 during the fourteenth session of the General Assembly.36 In the midst of that debate, Antoine Frangulis, a former Greek diplomat acting as the delegate of Haiti, filed a draft resolution demanding an international bill of the rights of man. The petition referred to the New York Declaration, but its phrasing relied on an earlier draft and placed its main emphasis on the requirement that all citizens of any given state be treated equally before the law “without any distinction as to race, language and religion.”37 In his speech, Frangulis, who was known as “the human rights delegate” in Geneva’s diplomatic circles, stressed that “the rights of men as individuals should no longer be subject to the arbitrary authority of the state.” He deemed the ensuing equality of rights “one of the greatest boons which can be conferred on humanity as a whole” and reminded fellow delegates that “it would be fatal for the League of Nations to shut out the vivifying breath of new ideas and new institutions.”38 Under the prevailing circumstances, there was no doubt that Frangulis’ demand targeted the German political situation, and indeed it was widely understood as a maneuver to encourage sharp condemnation of Nazi anti-Semitism.39 Particularly in France, where the League of the Rights of Man (Ligue des Droits de l’Homme) was at its height in the 1930s, it struck a chord with public opinion.40 But in the League of Nations few delegates were ready to delve into the matter and even fewer to endorse the demand. The Greek foreign minister Nikolaos Politis, a former professor of international law and member of the ILI, who aired his support, and the Swiss delegate William Rappard, another academic of international distinction, who similarly displayed sympathy, were among the rare exceptions.41 Germany’s subsequent withdrawal from the League of Nations did not facilitate matters. In 1934, Poland resubmitted its previous demand for universalizing minority protection so that the same standards would apply to all League members but added the threat to terminate its obligations if the League were to refuse. Raising the issue of an international bill of the rights of man under these new conditions 127


no longer served as a gambit to criticize the Nazi regime, and instead steered the debate right back into the deadlock over reforming the minority regime. However, Frangulis renewed his demand by insisting that the League abandon the existing “bad system” of minority protection and overhaul it entirely “from the angle of the jurisdictional guarantee of the rights possessed by men as such, irrespective of whether they belong to a minority or a majority.”42 Again, Frangulis agitated public opinion, particularly in France, but failed to find understanding from fellow delegates. The only government ready to endorse “a convention to universalize those sacred rights of the individual which should not be taken from him under any pretext by any majority whatever,” was Ireland, a young state with its own Catholic human rights ethos and a fresh memory of violence dating from its recent struggle for independence.43 The rights of man subsequently remained a marginal subject in the international arena. Politically meaningless, the idea of the rights of man failed to overcome the deadlock of minority protection or prevent the demise of the minority regime once Poland canceled its cooperation.44 Though exposing fateful deficits in international law, as Jewish commentators registered with heightened alarm, neither the Bernheim petition nor the subsequent call for the international recognition of universal rights were capable of stopping state-sponsored abuse or defending its victims against further harm. The international debate was nonetheless consequential, insofar as it reshaped the significance of human rights. Emerging as a potentially viable alternative to the obviously dysfunctional system of minority protection, the rights of man, after being introduced in the international arena as a shield against racial discrimination, became almost interchangeable with legal equality and the protection of the individual against the abuse of state power, an interpretation that resonated with the public reception of transnational human rights advocacy and the debates in the League Assembly.45 In the following years, parallel feminist engagement with international law not only reinforced the emphasis on equality but also changed and widened the meaning of nondiscrimination.

Whose rights are the rights of man? Sex equality and expanding the definition of nondiscrimination It did not escape informed observers that the draft resolution Frangulis put on the League’s agenda differed from the New York Declaration in one important point: it did not list “sex” among the inadmissible categories of legal distinction. When asked about the reasons for this omission, Frangulis admitted it happened “in view of the need of arriving at an immediate solution of a more urgent problem.”46 In fact, he had built his proposal on an earlier draft of the New York Declaration, probably in anticipation of warnings similar to those several speakers had voiced during the ILI’s 1929 session not to antagonize with a strong commitment to sex equality those countries where women had not yet gained the vote.47 Against this backdrop, it seems all the more surprising that the New York Declaration was explicit in banning discrimination on the grounds of “sex” in three of its six articles. Even in the eyes of its main protagonists, this was groundbreaking. James Brown Scott, for instance, the eminent legal scholar from the United States who presided over the ILI’s 1929 session, celebrated the declaration as the first truly universal human rights document because it applied to all human beings, “man, woman, or child, in the state as well as the international community.” According to him, it also amounted to the special “glory” of the declaration that it united “the two sexes … in complete legal equality” as a tribute to modern life.48 128


Scott’s praise, however, could barely conceal that before 1929 including sex equality in the declaration had been anything but obvious. It had actually happened at a late stage of the drafting process and, as involved scholars conceded, only upon the intervention of feminists from the United States. That intervention was probably instigated by the circle around Alice Paul and Doris Stevens, two leading members of the National Woman’s Party who had been pushing for the international recognition of equal rights since the 1920s and who were also in close contact to James Brown Scott.49 In exposing the ambiguity of human rights language, the British feminist Winifred Mayo later also recalled that it was the insistence of American colleagues that guaranteed “that ‘Rights of Man’ was to be read as meaning ‘Rights’ for both sexes.”50 Women also intervened to this end with various private organizations that were about to pass resolutions endorsing the rights of man, capitalizing on their connections with members of the political establishment and influential internationalists sympathetic to their cause such as Edvard Beneš, the foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, and the conservative British politician Lord Robert Cecil, a leading member of the British League of Nations Union and the International Federation of League of Nations Societies. As several transnational associations in 1933 considered endorsing Frangulis’ demand for an international human rights convention, the Briton Helen Archdale and other members of Equal Rights International urged Cecil to ensure that any resolution supporting the “‘Rights of Man’ included also ‘Rights of Women.’”51 The resolution passed by the International Federation at its 1934 Montreux gathering did not include “sex” but, unlike the proposal Frangulis submitted to the League of Nations, it satisfied equal rights advocates by using gender-neutral language and stating that “every individual … has an equal right to life, to material existence, and to liberty … without any discrimination whatsoever.”52 In general, however, feminists remained distrustful of the rights of man project. Based on the experience that the recognition of their own claims was contingent on political expediency and other twists of fate, they suspected that the rights of man could easily eclipse and supplant their demands. “I feel that although we must give some attention to the Rights of Man convention,” Helen Archdale surmised in her private correspondence, it must only be as secondary to our real demand for sex equality. It must by no means be allowed to supersede or in any way replace our demand. There is a danger that people might use the rather chimerical Rights of Man convention as an excuse to drop our much more practical equality of the sexes convention.53 These apprehensions were not unfounded. In 1935, the Belgian delegate to the League Assembly, for instance, proposed that the question of legal equality between men and women “can advantageously be examined by the League of Nations when the latter has before it the question of the rights of man and of the citizen.”54 At that point there was little doubt about the true intentions behind the suggestion of binding women’s claims to the obviously hopeless proposition for international human rights. The same speaker made this fairly clear in a later statement by pointing out if “the League had to deal with the question of discrimination of status, it could do so more usefully on the basis of race, language and religion.”55 In brief, if any linkage existed in the 1930s between sex equality and human rights, it was certainly weak or could easily be exploited to invert feminist demands. For the women’s movement, endorsing human rights implied the risk of shelving their own 129


interests, a prospect that was particularly unattractive in view of the considerable headway feminists had made in the League of Nations and other international bodies. Since the early 1930s, advocates of equal rights for men and women had been swamping international organizations with their requests, and in 1934 they succeeded, with the help of Latin American states, to put “the entire status of women” on the agenda of the League of Nations. This was “indeed a marvelous triumph for women everywhere,” Emma Wold, a member of the National Woman’s Party and previously a technical advisor to the US delegation at the International Codification Conference at the Hague, observed.56 Recognition of the status of women as an international affair was first and foremost a victory of the egalitarian wing of the transnational women’s movement. Its campaign, often associated with the “left wing” of international feminism (not to be confused with socialist feminists), had roots dating back to the 1920s.57 For example, their work drew upon a then-new strategy devised by Alice Paul and Doris Stevens for leveraging the Equal Rights Amendment to the US constitution in domestic lawmaking. They lobbied the Pan-American Union to pass a binding statement on equal rights for men and women, hoping that its adoption would put national legislation under pressure to comply with international standards. Latin American feminists joined the efforts, and they scored their first success in 1928, when the Pan-American Union recognized their claim by appointing a new agency, the Inter-American Commission of Women, to concern itself exclusively with women’s rights. Upon the request of this commission, the Pan-American Union in 1933 approved an equal rights treaty drafted by Alice Paul, and Latin American governments subsequently submitted it to the League of Nations for adoption.58 A parallel campaign for the repeal of the policy pursued by the International Labour Organization (ILO) was an additional source for radicalizing egalitarianism. Since 1919, several conventions of the ILO had erected a system of international regulations aimed at shielding women, specifically mothers, from labor-related health risks. This legislation entailed differential treatment of men and women at the workplace, including a ban on night work for women in manufacturing; standards regarding maternity leave; and provisions targeting pregnant women. While the majority of feminist organizations including socialist women supported this legislation, radical egalitarians, many of whom were welleducated professionals with an academic background, identified special protection as a new source of sex discrimination in the labor market. Their fight against the ILO policy intensified with the Great Depression and the backlash that women suffered in many industrialized countries due to new restrictions on married women’s employment.59 The Conference for the Codification of International Law in 1930 was a third influence, and it propelled the radical egalitarians into action. The Conference passed an agreement entitled “Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws,” which was designed to harmonize citizenship legislation so as to remove causes for statelessness. Disregarding feminist claims, this convention expressly condoned the widespread practice of requiring women who married men of foreign citizenship to give up their own original citizenship. This decision by the Conference stirred a storm of protest from women’s organizations. Feminists tried to block the ratification of the convention and called for its immediate revision. In response to these demands, the League of Nations set up a semi-official committee of representatives from women’s organizations. The committee issued several statements condemning the convention as a dangerous precedent in international law for being “founded upon the theory of the subjection of women.”60 130


In the early 1930s, these different campaigns coalesced around the draft of an equal rights treaty. In 1929, the British Six Point Group was the first feminist organization to use that draft to lobby diplomats in Geneva, and was soon joined by others, such as Equal Rights International.61 By scheduling debate on the equal rights treaty in the fall of 1935, the League of Nations signaled that the inferior status of women constituted a political problem of international range and, therefore, a legitimate matter for the world organization to be concerned with and to collect information on from states and women’s organizations. This decision opened the floodgates. It offered feminist organizations an opportunity to display their expertise and to claim authority in defining problems related to discrimination against women. As the League circulated its reports together with the responses from governments, it was in a position to shape the discourse by stressing equality as the standard of comparison. The League’s semi-official Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, for instance, which was dominated by radical egalitarians, maintained that “countries which are held to be most civilized and progressive are those countries where some measure of equality has been given [to women].”62 In the League Assembly’s public debates, speakers sympathizing with the feminist cause successfully linked women’s rights to social progress, reinforcing sex equality as a standard of global modernity. The Danish delegate Anna Westergaard, for instance, declared that the progress of a country depended to a great extent on its willingness to free itself from prejudices regarding the status of women and to loosen the shackles which, in so many States, still bound women so that they were unable to make their full contribution to the future development of the world.63 As a novel parameter of international comparison, sex equality provided governments with the opportunity to present themselves as trailblazers of modernity by displaying the advancement of their female citizens, while also shaming those governments that could not produce a brilliant record or that were unwilling to abide by the new rules. The frustration voiced by the latter testified to a sea change in the manner in which the international community broached gender relations. One speaker, for instance, complained about the new tendency “to divide the states into two categories – the so-called progressive states and the others, the latter being regarded more or less as culprits” with respect to women’s advancement.64 In short, by the mid-1930s, the discourse in the international arena leaned towards the endorsement of sex equality as a universal goal and as a self-evident standard that no longer required justification. In 1937, the Swedish delegate Kerstin Hesselgren spoke for many feminists who sensed “a growing process of evolution” geared “towards complete emancipation of women.”65 In 1938, these efforts culminated in the appointment of an expert committee by the League to perform a worldwide study on the legal status of women. At first sight these activities had no direct relationship to human rights advocacy. As Jean Quataert has summed up the situation, women’s rights were not “yet framed in the explicit language of human rights.”66 But the League’s engagement with feminist demands was in fact instrumental in establishing an ever-stronger bond between the rights of man and gender equality. By making sex equality a standard of international comparison, the League infused it with implicitness and universal validity, thereby preparing the ground 131


for its recognition as an intrinsic and constitutive element of human rights. Moreover, on closer examination connections between feminist campaigns and the rights of man were more frequent at that time than generally assumed. Human rights language molded opposition to the nationality convention, and the New York Declaration served as a yardstick to condemn the nationality convention’s provisions regarding married women, for instance in resolutions of the ILI. This legislation, being “based upon the principle of masculine superiority” and disadvantaging “women in [sic] behalf of men in express terms,” this legislation constituted a clear case of “discrimination in the matter of sex,” according to James Brown Scott.67 Networks of radical egalitarians used human rights language not only to invoke the natural rights legacy it carried but increasingly also to advance new legal concepts and to highlight the universal character of their demands. This was the strategy Open Door International for the Emancipation of the Woman Worker (ODI), a group founded in 1929, applied in its struggle against special protection legislation. According to ODI it was the “aim of feminism” that “a woman should enjoy the same human rights as a man in all spheres of life,” meaning that a “woman should not be classified with a child or a young person … [and] the natural function of motherhood is not a reason for restricting the woman in any of her rights as a human being.”68 Exposing the dominant tendency of taking the male standard for the norm, the association argued that differential treatment of men and women actually amounted to denying women basic rights. “In every community,” ODI stated in 1935, it is the status of the man which is taken as the normal. His rights are accepted as those pertaining to the human being. To the woman are always denied some of these human rights … In many countries, marriage itself deprives women of human rights. There is no country in which … the woman is not denied by reason of sex or marriage or childbirth some of the normal human rights enjoyed by the male worker.69 As an early testimony to an unflinching identification of sex equality as human rights claim, this line of argument also bespoke a wider conception of human rights than the one guiding the New York Declaration. It indicated a shift in the significance of human rights language, a new connection that explains why the association of women’s rights with human rights would appear increasingly obvious in the following decades. With the looming collapse of the international order and the mounting reports on state-sponsored abuses, women’s organizations often used human rights language to present their struggle as a general concern about the fate of humanity. Feminist demands merged with the call for guarantees to protect “human values and individual liberty … without regard to sex, race or religion,” as the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship proclaimed at its 1939 congress.70 And in March 1941, a draft resolution of international women’s organizations expressed their expectation that a postwar settlement be built on “the inviolable right of the individual to life and bodily integrity, the right to worship and to earn, to contract, to possess and use property … irrespective of sex, race, creed or class.”71 This was just a few months before the Atlantic Charter of August 1941 was to set off an international avalanche of human rights demands. 132


Conclusion It is true that the call for human rights fell on deaf ears in the interwar period to a great extent, and failed, except in France, to mobilize public support on a wider scale. Does this conclusion confirm Hannah Arendt’s scathing judgment that the rights of man were but lofty ideals harbored “by a few international jurists without political experience or professional philanthropists supported by the uncertain sentiments of professional idealists”? Does it corroborate her conclusion that their declarations “showed an uncanny similarity in language and composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals”?72 For people exposed to persecution and deprived of all other means of protection, it might well be thus. For them human rights were at best ideals inspired by the faith in universal moral values to which they would appeal in the last resort. Beyond that, human rights were likely to be, for them, empty words, legally and politically toothless. Yet this conclusion should not be taken to imply that interwar human rights advocacy had no further significance. The struggles against the differential treatment of religious and national minorities, women, and refugees exposed the grievances of these groups as discrimination and injustice. By prioritizing equality – according to Hersh Lauterpacht “the most fundamental of all of the rights of man” – over other claims while conflating it with nondiscrimination, these campaigns informed the human rights revolution with its emphasis on the equal worth of all human beings.73 At the same time, they catalyzed new language for condemning legal inequities. and this new language came to be amalgamated with the New World predilection for freedom, as in FDR’s Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter.74 Political scientist Philip Quincy Wright gave an example of such a new pairing in 1942, when he wrote: Particularly important in international experience has been the freedom from inequality of opportunity because of race, religion, nationality or other classifications … Reasonable equality of treatment and security against unreasonable discriminations is doubtless to be implied from the very conception of human freedom and the integrity of the human personality asserted by the four freedoms.75 The interwar discourse of equality blended with the individualistic rhetoric of the postwar settlement. It helped to bring about and disseminate a political imagery that reverberated internationally and that has infused claims such as gender and racial equality with credibility and evidence.

Notes 1 Preamble and Article 1(3), United Nations Charter, 1945. Online. Available at /en/charter-united-nations/ (accessed 26 December 2018). 2 “Minorities Treaty Between the Principal Allied and Associated Powers … and Poland, Signed at Versailles, 28 June 1919.” Online. Available at 19190628-3.pdf (accessed 26 December 2018). 3 One of the very few surveys mentioning the amendment is Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Origins, Drafting, and Intent, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. See pp. 116–20. 4 Dorothy Kenyon, “United Nations Commission on Status of Women,” Women Lawyers’ Journal, 1947, vol. 33, 38.



5 Dorothy Kenyon, “Victories on the International Front,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1947, vol. 251, no. 1, 19. 6 Hersch Lauterpacht, An International Bill of the Rights of Man, New York: Columbia University Press, 1945, p. 119. 7 Ellen DuBois and Lauren Derby, “The Strange Case of Minerva Bernardino: Pan American and United Nations Womens Rights Activist,” Women’s Studies International Forum, 2009, vol. 32, 43–50; Jean Quataert and Benita Roth, “Guest Editorial Note: Human Rights, Global Conferences, and the Making of Postwar Transnational Feminisms,” Journal of Women’s History, 2012, vol. 24, no. 4, 15. 8 Allida Black, “Are Women ‘Human’? The UN and the Struggle to Recognize Women’s Rights as Human Rights,” in Akira Iriye, Petra Goedde, and William I. Hitchcock (eds.) The Human Rights Revolution. An International History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 138–41; Johannes Morsink, “Women’s Rights in the Universal Declaration,” Human Rights Quarterly, 1991, vol. 13, 229–56. 9 Among the rapidly growing literature emphasizing that 1945 marks a moment of discontinuity in the history of international law, see Jean H. Quataert, Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009; Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010; and Jan Eckel, Die Ambivalenz des Guten. Menschenrechte in der internationalen Politik seit den 1940er Jahren, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014. 10 There are diverging interpretations. Mark Mazower, “The Strange Triumph of Human Rights 1933–1950,” Historical Journal, 2004, vol. 47, no. 2, 379–98, emphasizes the opportunistic rationale behind the big powers’ postwar support for lofty human rights principles to replace the onerous obligations of the interwar minority regime. G. Daniel Cohen, “The Holocaust and the ‘Human Rights Revolution’: A Reassessment,” in Iriye et al., The Human Rights Revolution, stresses the significance of the Jewish genocide for key human rights advocates. Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics and the Origins of the European Convention, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, and Lora Wildenthal, The Language of Human Rights in West Germany, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, shed light on the role conservative and reactionary circles and politically compromised individuals played in promoting the European human rights regime after World War II, as they recognized the value of international guarantees for advancing such diverse causes as religious education and amnesties for war criminals and collaborationists. 11 Jan Herman Burgers, “The Road to San Francisco: The Revival of the Human Rights Idea in the Twentieth Century,” Human Rights Quarterly, 1992, vol. 14, no. 4, 447–77. Also Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights. Visions Seen, 1st ed., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. Rehabilitating the notion of certain continuities: Pamela Slotte and Miia Halme-Tuomisaari (eds.), Revisiting the Origins of Human Rights, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 12 Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 13 On the disparate origins of “human dignity” and “human person,” see Samuel Moyn, Christian Human Rights, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 14 See, for instance, Marilyn Lake, “From Self-Determination via Protection to Equality via NonDiscrimination: Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations,” in Patricia Grimshaw, Katie Holmes, and Marilyn Lake (eds.) Women’s Rights and Human Rights. International Historical Perspectives, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001, pp. 254–71; Karen Offen, European Feminisms 1700–1950: A Political History, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000; Karen Garner, Shaping a Global Women’s Agenda: Women’s NGOs and Global Governance, 1925–1985, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010. Emphasizing the role of individuals, such as Dorothy Kenyon: Jaci Eisenberg, “The Status of Women: A Bridge from the League of Nations to the United Nations,” Journal of International Organizations, 2013, vol. 4, no. 2, 8–24. 15 Joan Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer. French Feminists and the Rights of Man, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.



16 Boris Mirkine-Guetzevitch, “Das Menschenrecht der Heimatlosen,” Die Friedens-Warte, 1930, vol. 30, no. 7–8, 213. On the author, see Dzovinar Kévonian, “Les juristes juifs russes en France et l’action internationale dans les années vingt,” Archives Juives, 2001, vol. 34, no. 2, 72–94. 17 For an early testimony, see Philip Marshall Brown, “The Individual and International Law,” American Journal of International Law, 1924, vol. 18, no. 3, 532–6. 18 Maurice Bourquin, “Règles générales du droit de la paix,” Recueil des cours de l’Académie de droit international, 1931, vol. 35, no. 1, 172. 19 Jean Spiropoulos, “L’individu et le droit international,” Recueil des cours de l’Académie de droit international, 1929, vol. 30, no. 5, 195. Similarly Charles Dupuis, “Règles générales du droit de la paix,” Recueil des cours de l’Académie de droit international, 1930, vol. 32, no. 2, 50; Hersch Lauterpacht, “Règles générales du droit de la paix,” Recueil des cours de l’Académie de droit international, 1937, vol. 62, no. 4, 207–9. 20 André N. Mandelstam, “Der internationale Schutz der Menschenrechte und die New-Yorker Erklärung des Instituts für Völkerrecht,” Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, 1931, vol. 2, no. 1, 366. Mandelstam interpreted most of the League’s social and humanitarian work through the lens of human rights. He also praised the League’s mandate system for erecting “true strongholds of human rights” in the territories under its supervision as part of its civilizing mission. Historical research is less positive regarding the achievements of the mandate system. See Pedersen, The Guardians; Michael D. Callahan, Mandates and Empire. The League of Nations and Africa, 1914–1931, Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 1999. 21 Bruno Cabanes, The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918–1924, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014. For a more affirmative interpretation, see Barbara Metzger, “Towards an International Human Rights Regime during the Inter-War Years: The League of Nations’ Combat of Traffic in Women and Children,” in Kevin Grant, Philippa Levine, and Frank Trentmann (eds.) Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c.1880–1950, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 54–79. 22 Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations. The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 23 For an overview, see Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 267–304. 24 André N. Mandelstam, “Question méthodologique: La généralisation du droit des minorités par rapport à la généralisation du droit de l’homme et du citoyen,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, Brussels: Institut de Droit International, 1928, pp. 284–5. Similarly Robert Redslob, “Le principe des nationalités,” Recueil des cours de l’Académie de droit international, 1931, vol. 37, no. 3, 60. On Mandelstam, see Dzovinar Kévonian, “André Mandelstam and the Internationalization of Human Rights (1869–1949),” in Slotte et al., Revisiting the Origins of Human Rights, pp. 239–66. Also Rainer Huhle, “Vom Minderheitenrecht zum Menschenrecht. André Mandelstam und die Entwicklung des menschenrechtlichen Völkerrechts,” Europa Ethnica, 2013, no. 1–2. 25 André N. Mandelstam, “Das Problem der Menschen- und Bürgerrechte im ‘Institut de Droit International,’” Die Friedens-Warte, 1928, vol. 28, no. 12; André N. Mandelstam, “La généralisation de la protection internationale des droits de l’homme,” Revue de droit international et de la législation comparée, 1930, vol. 11; “Les dernières phases du mouvement pour la protection internationale des droits de l’homme,” Revue du droit internationale et de la législation comparée, 1934, vol. 13. 26 Wilhelm G. Hertz, “Die Menschenrechte,” Die Friedens-Warte, 1934, vol. 34, no. 5, p. 226. Similarly Alfred Berl, “La Déclaration des Droits Internationaux de l’homme et le judaïsme,” Paix et droit. Organe de l’Alliance israélite universelle, 1930, vol. 10, no. 6, 2. 27 “Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme,” 1929. Online. Available at /app/uploads/2017/06/1929_nyork_03_fr.pdf (accessed 26 December 2018). The translation is my own. 28 “Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, 1929, vol. 2, 125–6. Hans Wehberg, “Probleme der rechtlichen Organisation der Welt,” Die Friedens-Warte, 1929, vol. 29, no. 12, 356. 29 “La Session de Cambridge de l’Institut de Droit International,” Revue de Droit International, 1931, vol. 5, no. 8, 301–8; James Brown Scott, “The Two Institutes of International Law,” American Journal of International Law, 1932, vol. 26, no. 1, 93. On the period’s more ambitious projects



30 31

32 33 34

35 36 37 38 39 40

41 42 43

44 45 46 47 48 49 50


that also included social, cultural, and economic rights, see Emmanuel Naquet, “L’action de la Fédération Internationale des Ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH) entre les deux guerres,” Matériaux pour l’Histoire de Notre Temps, 2009, vol. 95, 61–2. Article 7, “Minorities Treaty Between the Principal Allied and Associated Powers … and Poland, Signed at Versailles, 28 June 1919.” “bemerkenswert” in Wehberg, “Probleme der rechtlichen Organisation der Welt,” 357; “epoch-making” in Scott, “Two Institutes,” 93; “revolutionary” in Philip Marshall Brown, “The New York Session of the Institut de Droit International,” American Journal of International Law, 1930, vol. 24, no. 1, 127. “Le Congrès international des Ligues des droits de l’homme,” Les Cahiers des Droits de l’Homme 1933, vol. 33, no. 2, 33–7. See Zara Steiner, The Triumph of the Dark. European International History 1933–1939, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. With different emphasis: Marc Matera and Susan Kingsley Kent, The Global 1930s: The International Decade, New York: Routledge, 2017. On the following, see Philipp Graf, Die Bernheim-Petition 1933: Jüdische Politik in der Zwischenkriegszeit, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008. In his detailed examination, Graf has revised previous interpretations that depicted the Bernheim petition as an early attempt to internationalize human rights. For such views, see Dorothy V. Jones, Toward a Just World: The Critical Years in the Search for International Justice, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, pp. 119–32; Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights, pp. 126–34. Fink, Defending the Rights of Others, pp. 328–35. Both debates were public. See the proceedings in League of Nations (hereafter LoN), Official Journal, 1933, vol. 14, no. 7, 838–44; 929–35 (Council); LoN, Official Journal. Special Supplement No. 120, Records of the Fourteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly. Minutes of the Sixth Committee, 1933, 22–59. For the draft resolution, see LoN, Official Journal. Special Supplement No. 115: Plenary Meetings, 1933, 50. LoN, Official Journal. Special Supplement No. 120, 32, 34. “Les droits de l’homme et du citoyen devant la 14e Assemblée de la S.D.N.,” in La Revue Diplomatique, 1922, no. 56, 6–7. “Die Generaldebatte in der Völkerbundsversammlung,” in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1 October 1933. For the most extensive coverage in the French press, see Alfred Berl, “Racisme ou droit humain?” Paix et Droit, 1933, vol. 13, no. 7–8, 1–3. On the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, see William D. Irvine, Between Justice and Politics. The Ligue des Droits de l’Homme 1898–1945, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007. LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 120, 52 (Politis), 53 (Rappard). LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 130: Records of the Fifteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly. Minutes of the Sixth Committee, 1934, 44. LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 130: Records of the Fifteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly. Minutes of the Sixth Committee, 1934, 63 (Eamon de Valera). For the reception in France, see Le Temps, 21 September 1934, 6 and Le Journal, 21 September 1934, 3. On de Valera’s notion of human rights, see Moyn, Christian Human Rights, pp. 40–4. On the demise of minority protection, see Fink, Defending the Rights of Others, pp. 338–43. See, for instance, the report on the Assembly debate in Le Petit Journal, 1 October 1933, 3. LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 139: Records of the Sixteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly. Minutes of the First Committee, 1935, 38. “Déclaration des droits internationaux de l’homme,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, 1929, vol. 2, 124–7. James Brown Scott, “La Déclaration Internationale des Droits de l’Homme,” Revue de droit international, 1930, vol. 4, no. 5, 79–80, 99. See, for instance, Wehberg, “Probleme der rechtlichen Organisation der Welt,” 357. Referring to Alice Paul and Doris Stevens, see Scott, “Two Institutes,” 100–1. “Minutes of the Liaison Committee of Women’s International Organizations,” 19 February 1934, in Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Sklar (eds.) Women and Social Movements, International: 1840 to Present, Alexander Street/ProQuest, 2012. Online. Available through subscribing libraries at (accessed 21 December 2017). Women’s Library, London (hereafter WL), 5ERI, Box FL330, “Report of the Honorary Secretary 1934.”



52 “Report of the Honorary Secretary 1934.” 53 WL, 5ERI, Box FL331, Helen Archdale to K. Malinkova Popprova, 23 December 1933. See also Lake, “From Self-Determination,” pp. 263–4. 54 LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 139, 35. 55 LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 139, 49. 56 Emma Wold, “League of Nations to Consider Status of Women,” Women Lawyers’ Journal, 1934–5, vol. 21, 9. 57 Helen Archdale, “International Developments in the Woman’s Movement,” Current History, 1928, vol. 29, no. 1, 51. Also Carol Miller, “‘Geneva – the Key to Equality’: Inter-War Feminists and the League of Nations,” Women’s History Review, 1994, vol. 3, no. 2, 219–45. 58 See Beatrice McKenzie, “The Power of International Positioning: The National Woman’s Party, International Law and Diplomacy, 1928–34,” Gender & History, 2011, vol. 23, no. 1, 130–46; Ann Towns, “The Inter-American Commission of Women and Women’s Suffrage 1920–1945,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 2010, vol. 42, 779–807; Patricia Ward D’Itri, Cross Currents in the International Women’s Movement 1848–1948, Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999, pp. 153–8. 59 Eliane Gubin, “Pour le droit de travail: entre protection et égalité,” in Eliane Gubin et al. (eds.) Le siècle des féminismes, Paris: Les Éditions de l’Atelier, 2004, pp. 163–78. See also the essay by Eileen Boris and Jane Jensen in this volume. 60 LoN Archive, “V. Legal 1932. Proposals of the Committee of Representatives of Women’s International Organizations,” 6 July 1931, p. 8. On the feminist campaign: Paula F. Pfeffer, “‘A Whisper in the Assembly of Nations.’ United States’ Participation in the International Movement for Women’s Rights from the League of Nations to the United Nations,” Women’s Studies International Forum, 1985, vol. 8, no. 5, 459–71; Ellen C. DuBois, “Internationalizing Married Women’s Nationality: The Hague Campaign of 1930,” in Karen Offen (ed.) Globalizing Feminisms, 1789–1945, London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 204–16. 61 WL, 5ERI, Box FL330, “Minutes of the Meeting of the Equal Rights International Council,” 8 September 1931. 62 League of Nations and United Nations Office at Geneva Archives (hereafter LoN Archive), “A.19.1935.V. Nationality and Status of Women,” p. 28. 63 LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 139, 27. 64 LoN, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 139, 19. 65 LoN Archive, “A.54.1937.V. Status of Women. Report Submitted by the First Committee to the Assembly,” 25 September 1937, p. 3. 66 Jean H. Quataert, The Gendering of Human Rights in the International Systems of Law in the Twentieth Century, Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 2006, p. 15 (emphasis in the original). 67 James Brown Scott, “Editorial Comment: Nationality,” American Journal of International Law, 1930, vol. 24, no. 3, 558–60. Also Scott, “Two Institutes,” 94 (referring to the resolutions of the ILI). 68 Open Door International for the Emancipation of the Woman Worker, Report of the Conference Held in Berlin, June 15th and 16th, 1929, London: Open Door International, pp. 7–8, 45–6. 69 LoN Archive, “A.19.1935. V. Nationality and Status of Women, Statements Presented by International Women’s Organizations,” p. 41. 70 International Alliance of Women, Report of the Thirteenth Congress 1939, London: International Alliance of Women, 1939, pp. 18–19. 71 “Minutes of the Liaison Committee,” 6 March 1941, in Dublin and Sklar, Women and Social Movements. 72 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. New Edition with Added Prefaces, Orlando: Harcourt, 1985, p. 292. 73 Lauterpacht, An International Bill of the Rights of Man, p. 115. 74 See Elizabeth Borgwardt, A New Deal for the World. America’s Vision for Human Rights, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2005. 75 Quincy Wright, “Human Rights and the World Order,” International Conciliation, 1942–3, vol. 21, 256.



8 SOCIAL AND E CONOMIC RIGHTS The struggle for equivalent protection Claire-Michelle Smyth

Introduction Social and economic rights, broadly defined, are those necessary to sustain life, including housing, food, clothing, water, health care, social security, and an adequate standard of living. These rights could be described as the most fundamental of human rights, as they are essential for continued survival. However, they are not afforded the same legal status and protection as civil and political rights in international, regional and domestic systems. They are often seen as subordinate to civil and political rights, and it has been argued that they should not be justiciable, meaning that they should not be enforceable in a court of law. This essay charts the development of social and economic rights in international law, from the creation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its legacy to contemporary debates on the legal status of these rights. This essay takes a legalistic approach towards the protection of rights. The legalistic approach to human rights affirms that rights are meaningless unless they can be enforced in a court of law. While not dismissing or diminishing the impact that policy and grassroots movements can have on the furtherance of all human rights, as a lawyer I believe that the safety net of justiciability is vital for the effective protection of human rights. To that end, the focus of this essay is on illustrating the positive impact that courts have had when they have deigned to intervene. If social and economic rights are not elevated to the purview of the judiciary, they will continue to be perceived as less important than their civil and political counterparts. To illustrate this point, this essay examines moves towards justiciability at international, regional, and domestic levels, and the resulting positive impacts.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights In the aftermath of World War II and the failed League of Nations, the Charter establishing the United Nations (UN) entered into force on 24 October 1945.1 The primary purpose of this new institution, the United Nations, was twofold: to maintain international peace and stability, and to protect human rights. On 10 December 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which provided a comprehensive catalog of human rights for the first time and encouraged their protection by the rule of law. 141


The UDHR makes no distinction between civil and political rights and social and economic rights; rather, the document is a thorough account of the rights that states ought to strive to protect. This indicates that at the commencement of the modern human rights movement social and economic rights were recognized as being as important as civil and political rights, at least theoretically. It can therefore be argued that international law does not support a division of rights, and that such a division is grounded in national law perspectives that cling to a negative model of human rights. Political and civil rights are negative rights in the sense that they restrain the actions of states, whereas economic and social rights require positive investments by states. In other words, if the state merely has to avoid interfering with your rights (for example, not kill you) then this will not have significant budgetary implications, whereas if the state is required to provide you with healthcare or housing, that will be costly. Unfortunately, the UDHR was not a legally binding document. It did not require that any of the rights mentioned be transposed into national law. Negotiations in the UN began in 1949 to transpose the rights in the UDHR into legally binding obligations, but in the context of Cold War tensions, the discussions devolved into polemics and the attempts to create a single legally binding document were abandoned.2 There have been recent disputes about which moment was the pivotal one for human rights in international law. Samuel Moyn argues that the 1970s are a turning point for international human rights law, as that was when the first UN human rights treaties came into force,3 while Steven Jensen contends that the anticolonial movements of the 1960s had a significant, though often overlooked, impact on the development of international human rights.4 Jensen’s position has considerable merit because, although negotiations to transpose the UDHR began in 1949, it was during the 1960s that these efforts resulted in binding treaties, which, however, did establish in international law a persistent divide between the two sets of fundamental rights: civil and political on the one hand, and social and economic on the other. Although the UN has maintained an official position that all of the rights at issue are universal, interdependent, interrelated, and indivisible,5 there has been a long-running and deep disagreement regarding the proper status of social and economic rights, and each side has adopted extreme and discordant views. On one side is the position that social and economic rights are superior to civil and political rights in chronological terms, meaning that without the fulfillment of social and economic rights, civil and political rights cannot be realized. The other side claims that social and economic rights are not rights in the traditional and classic sense of the term, and that to treat them as such undermines individual freedoms and distorts the free market. The Western states, led by the United States, expressed concern about the scope of obligations and opposed the inclusion of social and economic rights, while many eastern European and emerging Third World nations strongly advocated their inclusion. The European states that at the time still held colonies were concerned about the cost of securing social and economic rights opposed their exclusion. The outcome of these debates was that the rights were split between two distinct documents. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),6 which contained civil and political rights, and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),7 consisting of social and economic rights, were both adopted by the General Assembly in 1966. The effect of this compromise cannot be overstated. Rights were cemented into two categories and set on divergent paths, with different importance ascribed to each. Given 142


the geopolitical balance of power, social and economic rights were relegated to a subordinate status,8 which created difficulties for their propagation and for the degree of force accorded to these rights in international, regional, and domestic contexts. Social and economic rights were to be realized progressively, subject to available resources9– a “programmatic”10 approach not applied to civil and political rights. The absence of immediate and concrete obligations in the ICESCR, coupled with the lack of a complaints mechanism,11 contributed powerfully to continued violations and compounded the inferior status of these rights at the international level.12 The ICCPR, by contrast, contains more compulsory wording, such as that “all peoples have the right,” and that states must “ensure” these rights.13 Under the ICESCR, the state has three core obligations: to respect, to protect, and to fulfill the rights contained therein.14 The duty to respect is a passive obligation and requires the state to avoid interfering, by law or conduct, with the enjoyment of the rights contained within the Covenant. The duty to protect is more active in nature, requiring the state to take positive steps to protect against violations by third parties. For example, states are to put in place, by way of legislation or policy, effective measures to prevent abuses of individuals by powerful actors such as landlords or banks. The duty to fulfill is the most contentious of the three, as it requires the state to provide for those who cannot support themselves, either by ensuring access to existing services or by directly providing services where access through existing structures is unavailable. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was established in 1985 in order to monitor state compliance with the ICESCR, in 1985.15 Its primary functions and objectives are to develop the normative content of the rights, develop state benchmarks, and hold states accountable for failure to implement. In addition, the Committee produces general comments that clarify the contents of rights and direct their interpretation. These general comments are nonbinding, so they do not create enforceable obligations; they are merely authoritative interpretations that set out what steps should be taken. They are published with a view to assisting each state in its implementation of the ICESCR. Each state must submit periodic reports to the Committee, which the Committee considers along with a so-called shadow report that is normally produced by independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from the state in question. The Committee then raises a list of issues and poses specific questions to the state; the state and the organizations that compiled the shadow report then submit their replies. The Committee makes its concluding remarks, which note areas of good practice, recommendations concerning further implementation, and areas where the state is considered to be failing. The Committee has no power to enforce its recommendations. Given that the obligation is to realize rights progressively, it is difficult for the Committee to determine whether a state has breached its obligations at all. The Maastricht Guidelines of 1997 clarify that a state is in breach of its obligations if it fails to allocate the maximum of its resources to the realization of human rights.16 Following this principle, the Committee issued a 2007 statement entitled “An Evaluation of the Obligation to Take Steps to the Maximum of Available Resources Under an Optional Protocol to the Covenant,” which regrettably did not define what constituted “available resources.”17 The concept of progressive realization imposes a continuing obligation of states to take steps towards full realization while introducing an element of flexibility into that obligation. There are three main elements to progressive realization. First, there must be immediate and tangible progress towards the agreed end. In other words, the element of 143


flexibility does not mean that the state can postpone implementation.18 Second, the state cannot pursue regressive measures, meaning that the state cannot reduce existing minimum levels of support. Such reductions are justified only where they can be demonstrated to be necessary for achieving equity in the realization of a right, or to create a more sustainable basis for realization.19 The state is likely to be held to a high standard here, as the Committee examines whether: (a) there was reasonable justification for the action (b) alternatives were comprehensively examined (c) there was genuine participation of affected groups in examining the proposed measures and alternatives (d) the measures were directly or indirectly discriminatory (e) the measures have a sustained impact on the realisation of the right and (f) whether there as an independent review of the measure at national level.20 The Committee offers little guidance, however. At times, it will criticize a measure without identifying whether the measure did in fact breach the state’s obligation. This is problematic particularly during times of austerity measures.21 The third element of progressive realization is that special measures are to be implemented for particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. This requires the state to take positive steps to reduce structural inequality and give preferential treatment to these groups. The steps to be taken toward progressive realization vary depending on the resources of the state. The minimum core approach sets out that there is a minimum level that the state must ensure. In other words, the obligation to implement minimum core rights is an immediate obligation, while the general application of the Covenant is an obligation to be met by progressive realization subject to state resources. As noted above, one of the Committee’s functions is to define, through its general comments, the content and scope of rights. The greatest challenges for the Committee have arisen when it has been tasked with articulating these in terms of a state’s minimum core obligations. Committee members seek to establish a minimum content, asserting that people are entitled to a minimum standard and that it is unacceptable for individuals to live in conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation that fall below the minimum standard. The general comments, while useful as elaborations of the content of rights, fail to define adequately what the minimum core of each right is.22 General Comment No. 3 states that: a minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least minimum essential levels of each of the rights is incumbent upon every state party. Thus, for example, a state party in which any significant number of individuals is deprived of essential foodstuffs, of essential primary health care, of basic shelter and housing, or of the most basic forms of education is, prima facie, failing to discharge its obligations under the Covenant.23 However, this statement is partially qualified, as the ICESCR states a number of conditions that must be present before a state can be said to have breached its minimum core obligations. Originally, there had to be a significant number of people suffering from the particular deprivation. As that significant number seemed impossible to quantify, the Committee subsequently clarified that minimum core obligations apply as an individual right – thereby effectively obviating the original requirement.24 Moreover, 144


“any assessment as to whether a state has discharged its minimum core obligations must also take account of resource constraints applying within the country concerned.”25 Benchmarks for progressively meeting social and economic rights have not been clearly defined, nor has the content of minimum core rights been cataloged. Given this situation, legal academic Katherine Young identifies three distinct approaches to understanding the minimum core rights and obligations.26 First, the essence approach seeks to establish the essential minimum of the right: “it is the absolute, inalienable and universal crux, an unrelinquishable nucleus that is the raison d’etre of the basic legal norm, essential to its definition.”27 Here, then, the minimum core is the satisfaction of the basic needs of the individual – the essentials for survival and life, as interpreted by the Committee.28 Such an approach can be problematic, however, as it can deteriorate into an exercise in defining the minimum requirements for humans’ biological survival. A value-based approach focuses, by contrast, on the dignity of the person, a concept that has flourished since the UDHR.29 This approach also creates difficulties, however, in that dignity can be measured either objectively or subjectively, which hampers a precise definition of the minimum core of the right.30 The second approach identified by Young is the consensus approach. Here the focus is on identifying where a consensus has been reached, rather than on defining the normative content of the minimum core. The idea is that evidence of a consensus can emerge from an examination of jurisprudence, and that consensus can be used to in turn to develop the normative content of the right. Indeed, the Committee has been able to ascertain a consensus, or an emerging consensus, from state reports, in spite of the lack of justiciability in many national jurisdictions. The focus on consensus, arguably, augments the legitimacy of the outcome. Young’s third approach is the minimum obligation approach. It focuses on the duties required to implement the minimum core right. While it is helpful for establishing the steps states should be taking to implement the right, it does little in the way of establishing normative content. The difficulty of determining the minimum core of a given right has played out in practice in the South African Constitutional Court. In the case of Government of the Republic of South Africa v. Grootboom, the court considered the right to adequate housing, and felt that it was impossible to say what the minimum threshold was without identifying need, which in turn would depend on factors such as income, employment, and availability of land. The court therefore preferred to examine the case based on the reasonableness of steps taken. Similarly, in the Treatment Action Campaign case, the South African Constitutional Court maintained that the minimum core right is subject to resource constraints, specifically rejecting arguments to the contrary. These cases are considered in more detail below. The concepts of progressive realization and minimum core rights have done much to curtail the development of social and economic rights. The steps required of states may be minimal and subject to resource constraints. While the Committee has been strongly critical of regressive measures, the global financial crisis since 2008 nevertheless resulted in fewer available resources, and austerity has had a significant impact on the enjoyment of rights protected by the ICESCR. Moreover, the failure to meet the minimum core content of each right can be due to the imprecise and contested nature of that content. Given that the role of the Committee has primarily been as a monitoring body, the introduction of the optional protocol of the ICESCR, intended to allow the court to deliver opinions and decisions on particular cases, may serve to clarify these areas. The optional protocol, in force since 2013, is also considered in more detail below. 145


Objections to justiciability The main difference between social and economic rights on the one hand and civil and political rights on the other has been, and continues to be, the ability to enforce them legally, that is, their justiciability. Early arguments against the justiciability of social and economic rights centered on whether they could even be properly classified as rights, due to the then current understanding that they carried positive and resource-heavy obligations. This debate has been concluded for the most part by the general acceptance of their status as human rights. Arguments now focus on which branch of the state should be responsible for their protection and vindication: the judiciary, the executive branch, or even the legislature. Overall, objections to the legalization of social and economic rights can be categorized under three headings: characterization, legitimacy, and institutional capacity.31 To briefly summarize these objections: Characterization refers to the content, obligation, and cost of the right. The objection here is twofold; first, that the content of the right itself is vague, and that therefore a court cannot make a determination, and second, that social and economic rights necessarily carry positive (and therefore expensive) obligations. This objection is easily countered: Civil and political rights have also been vague and imprecise historically, and through court intervention the parameters and scope of those rights have been better defined. Furthermore, all rights contain an amalgam of both positive and negative obligations. For example, it can be costly to ensure the right to a fair trial, as that requires an effective police force, an impartial judiciary, adequate representation, etc. The second kind of objection is legitimacy, and is related to the cost argument. This objection holds that, as these rights will cost the state, only the government has the power to decide how to allocate state resources, and that if the court were to determine these issues, it would be breaching the separation of powers. Again, all rights contain both positive and negative obligations. Moreover, to relegate an entire category of rights to a position beyond the scrutiny of the courts arguably creates a situation that the separation of powers was designed to prevent, for it places all of the power over them within one branch of the state, with no oversight. The third kind of objection centers on institutional capacity. It contends that courts do not have the capability to handle cases involving social and economic rights, due primarily to the polycentric or far-reaching effects of claims arising in such cases.32 This is possibly the least persuasive of the objections, as the vast majority of decisions have an impact on people beyond those who were party to the case, particularly if the case was brought against the state or an organ thereof. Judges often find themselves inserted into controversies that lie beyond their expertise, such as financial accounting, aviation, marine biology, etc. To overcome this deficiency, experts in the field are brought in to explain; the same could be done in cases concerning social and economic rights. In sum, objections to justiciability are misplaced. The next section further supports this conclusion by showing a clear trend toward court intervention and, more importantly, by showing that judicial intervention enhances protection.

Moving towards justiciability International law: the optional protocol to the ICESCR In 1990 the Committee began calling for the introduction of an optional protocol that would establish an individual complaints mechanism. An individual complaints



mechanism, it was argued, would empower the Committee to offer more effective protection in instances of concrete abuse, to issue more definitive guidance on the interpretation of rights, and to increase the stature of the ICESCR.33 Ongoing opposition to justiciability was apparent at the outset of negotiations on the optional protocol.34 Delegates argued that a complaints mechanism would be impractical due to the imprecise nature of the rights, and would undermine the democratic process in policy and budgetary matters.35 Despite such objections, the Human Rights Council approved the protocol in June 2008, the General Assembly adopted it, it was opened for signature in December 2008, and it entered into force in 2013.36 Numerous admissibility criteria must be met in order to address the Committee with a complaint, including the exhaustion of domestic remedies, a time limitation of one year, and the requirement that the claim must not be anonymous, vexatious, or an abuse of the right to petition.37 The Committee has jurisdiction only to hear claims in which the breach occurred or continued after the protocol came into effect, which confirms the principle of non-retrospectivity.38 It does, however, have the power to request interim measures to protect against continuing and ongoing violations.39 The optional protocol has two main weaknesses. First, the treaty’s wording remains the same: Rights are to be realized progressively, subject to resources, rather than as matters of immediate obligation. Again, this makes it difficult to prove that a state has breached its obligations.40 There is currently no jurisprudence from the Committee that could indicate how it will interpret state obligations or how influential the General Comments will be in defining state obligations. Legal analysts anticipate that this ambiguity will decline once the Committee begins to deliver opinions. The weak wording of the optional protocol, a result of political rather than legal considerations, is also a matter of concern. Extensive admissibility criteria were added in order to assuage fears of opening the floodgates. To my mind, that suggests that the Committee is aware of the vast and significant violations of these rights. The optional protocol also requires the Committee to take account of the “reasonableness” of any steps that the state has taken.41 The interpretation of reasonableness may have a considerable impact on the efficacy of the optional protocol, which in turn could influence interpretation in regional and domestic systems. If the Committee interprets reasonableness minimally, so too will the individual states.42 A second weakness of the optional protocol relates to the Committee’s enforcement and sanction powers. These extend to making recommendations only. The Committee has no authority to enforce its decisions or to impose sanctions on the offending state. The only requirement is that the State Party give due consideration to the Committee’s views. Despite these inherent weaknesses, the optional protocol is a significant step toward approximating the treatment of all rights without regard to derivation or classification. By providing a forum in which violations of rights can be voiced and adjudicated, albeit in a nonenforceable manner, the optional protocol elevates social and economic rights to a level comparable to civil and political rights in international law.43 This marks a considerable advancement of these rights and indeed categorically affirms their status as rights. Regional developments The Council of Europe was established in the wake of World War II as a sister institution to the European Economic Community (which developed into what we know today as the European Union). While the European Union and its antecedent institutions have 147


been charged with ensuring economic stability, the Council of Europe has had responsibility for protecting human rights. Disappointed at the delays in transposing the UDHR, the Council of Europe set about creating the European Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force in 1953. Here too the same arguments arose regarding the status of social and economic rights. In order to ensure that the convention could enter into force as quickly as possible, members agreed that only those rights would be included that were readily accepted by all. The text of the European Convention on Human Rights protects only civil and political rights. From its very early cases, however, the European Court of Human Rights found that there could be no watertight division of rights. At the same time, the Court was fairly stagnant for many years regarding developing that line of judicial reasoning.44 In the last decade or so, the Court has shown considerable activism regarding reading social and economic rights into the Convention. Its approach is that where violations of social and economic rights are such that the enjoyment of civil or political rights is materially affected, it will adjudicate. The following examples of case law illustrate this. The Court has primarily considered cases concerning housing, health, and social assistance, and initially it placed negative obligations on the state. In the case of Moldovan v. Romania, the Court determined that while the state does not have to provide housing for all homeless, the state may have a positive obligation if it has been complicit in creating that homelessness.45 In Connors v. UK46 and Yordanova v. Bulgaria,47 the Court affirmed that the state cannot arbitrarily evict without adequate safeguards, and that while the state does not have to provide benefits, where it does it must do so without discrimination.48 The Court moreover questioned whether the state can deport those with medical conditions.49 In recent cases, more positive obligations have been placed on the state. In Soares de Melo v. Portugal, a complex case involving removal of the applicant’s children for neglect due to poverty-stricken conditions, the court found such action to be a breach of the right to family life.50 This case is of particular note in that the court was critical of the fact that the state had knowledge of the applicant’s living conditions yet had not intervened to ameliorate the situation. The European Court of Human Rights is not the only court that has displayed this approach of adjudicating violations of social and economic rights where they affect the enjoyment of civil or political rights. Paralleling the above account of the UDHR, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948)51 encompasses social and economic rights, such as the right to health, education, rest and leisure, and the right to social security, but these were not integrated into the judicially enforceable American Convention on Human Rights that entered into force in 1969.52 However, even in the absence of specified protection, the Inter-American Court has interpreted civil and political rights, in particular the right to life, in a manner that renders social and economic rights justiciable through them.53 One of the first of its cases dealing with social and economic rights, known as the Street Children case,54 involved the plight of children living on the streets of Guatemala. The Inter-American Court reasoned that the right to live a dignified existence was implicit in the right to life.55 An additional protocol of the American Convention on Human Rights that concerns social and economic rights, commonly referred to as the Protocol of San Salvador, entered into force in 1999.56 Through application of the American Convention on Human Rights in a manner harmonious with this additional protocol, the notion of a decent and dignified life has come to encompass social and economic rights, 148


particularly the right to health.57 The interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights as an integral part of a system of human rights documents, rather than as a stand-alone document, has in effect made social and economic rights justiciable. In the context of this essay, both the manner in which the Inter-American Court has encompassed social and economic rights jurisprudence and the remedies it has awarded are important. The court does not only award damages where a breach has occurred; it has also developed the practice of ordering positive obligations at the interim stage. In other words, the court has ordered immediate measures to prevent violations of rights, rather than waiting for a violation to occur and responding reactively. These measures have so far primarily involved ordering medical treatment and improved living conditions for those under the care or control of the state.58 However, it is fair to expect the extension of this precedent to those dependent on state resources. The Inter-American Court has indirectly given effect to social and economic rights through its expansive interpretation of the civil and political rights contained in the Convention, and has thereby confirmed the indivisibility and interdependence of the two sets of rights in a manner that was “always intuitive.”59 Domestic jurisprudence Turning to domestic legal systems, it should be noted that recent national constitutions contain explicit protections for social and economic rights.60 The Croatian Constitution,61 the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Czech Republic (justiciable under the Constitution of the Czech Republic),62 the Constitution of Finland,63 the Constitution of Moldova,64 the Constitution of Hungary,65 the Constitution of Poland,66 the Constitution of Serbia,67 and the Swiss Constitution68 all provide express protections for various social and economic rights and for their judicial enforcement. South Africa provides the foremost example of a domestic system that enshrines social and economic rights within its Constitution69 and confers full justiciability on them.70 Rights such as housing, healthcare, food, social security, and shelter71 are of a rank and dignity equal to civil and political rights, a measure intended to transform the post-apartheid nation.72 The first substantive case73 on the issue of social and economic rights to come before the South African Constitutional Court was Soobramoney v. Minister for Health, KwaZulu-Natal, which challenged the denial of dialysis treatment to prolong the life of a terminally ill patient.74 The applicant relied on the provision that “no one may be refused emergency medical treatment,”75 which the court rejected. The court determined that the provision could not be extended to prolonging the life of a terminally ill patient, as the right had to be weighed against the limited resources of the state,76 and it held that the state was justified in restricting this treatment to non-terminal patients. The decision caused concern about the future of social and economic rights jurisprudence, as it appeared to defer excessively to the executive.77 The case of Government of the Republic of South Africa v. Grootboom, noted above and decided two years after Soobramoney, gave fresh hope.78 This case sought to enforce the right to housing under Section 26 of the constitution.79 The applicant and several hundred other residents of an informal settlement had left that area, due to dismal living conditions, and had settled on private land. A court granted an eviction order, and during its enforcement the residents’ temporary shelters and possessions were 149


destroyed, forcing them to return to the original informal settlement. A High Court found that the Constitution did not confer an enforceable individual right to a minimum entitlement to temporary shelter. It also found, however, that where parents were unable to provide basic shelter, Section 28 imposed an obligation on the state to provide “tents, portable latrines and a regular supply of water,”80 and made declaratory orders in that regard, requiring the respondents to provide temporary accommodation particularly for the children within three months.81 The Constitutional Court upheld the decision, but found that the state was in breach of Section 26(2), as its housing plan failed to provide reasonable measures “to provide for relief for people who have no access to land, no roof over their heads, and who are living in intolerable conditions or crisis situations,”82 and that “it is essential that a reasonable part of the national housing budget be devoted to the homeless.”83 However, it merely granted declaratory orders, and did not state what measures would satisfy this reasonableness test. The limits of enforceability for social and economic rights remained in question following this judgment.84 Its paramount significance, however, is that it confirmed that social and economic rights contain both negative and positive dimensions and obligations. With regard to negative obligations, a number of cases that involved evictions85 showed that the courts, while not stating a positive duty to provide for housing, did strike down legislation and procedures that allowed for arguably arbitrary eviction. This approach has not been confined to housing cases; in Khosa v. Minister for Social Development the court found unconstitutional the exclusion of permanent residents from certain social assistance benefits.86 While the court in Grootboom did not elaborate on the specifics of the positive obligations, it did confirm that the Constitution placed a duty on the state to ameliorate lamentable living conditions,87 and the court reserves the ability to enforce that by way of mandatory orders. The High Court did grant these mandatory orders in the Treatment Action Campaign case.88 This case challenged a policy that restricted the drug Nevirapine to certain pilot areas.89 In the first instance, the High Court ordered that the drug be made available to all infected mothers giving birth in state institutions, and that the state develop a comprehensive plan and report back to the court within three months in relation to its development and implementation.90 On appeal to the Constitutional Court, the ruling of the High Court was upheld in that the Constitutional Court affirmed the state’s duty to remove restrictions. However, in terms of the obligation to develop and implement the plan, the court preferred to grant declaratory relief with no time frame for completion.91 This deference toward defendants in cases of social and economic rights can also be seen in the Mazibuko case, which involved a challenge to the introduction of prepaid water meters in the poverty-stricken area of Soweto.92 The applicants argued that the water meters breached their constitutional right to adequate access to water.93 In the High Court, Justice Tsoka held that the installation of prepaid water meters constituted a violation of the right to water in that “To deny the applicants a right to water is to deny them the right to lead a dignified human existence.”94 The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which upheld the order of the High Court, stating that the city had no authority to install prepaid meters and, a fortiori, that the discontinuation of water when the free limit had been reached was unlawful.95 The case was appealed once more to the Constitutional Court, which overturned the High Court’s and Supreme 150


Court of Appeal’s previous orders. The Constitutional Court determined that the installation of meters did not breach any rights, and further refused to declare what amount of water was a sufficient daily allowance.96 The example of South Africa indicates that even when social and economic rights are placed in the text of a country’s constitution, that does not mean that they will be upheld in every case. Rather, they will be subject to the same balancing and tests that are applied to all other rights. Of particular note, the availability of resources has proven to be a paramount concern for the court. India is a contrasting case, in that it has been the most assiduous in reading social and economic rights into its constitution. It has done so through an expansive interpretation of the right to life. The pivotal moment was the expansion of Article 21 to make the Directive Principles of State Policy justiciable. That initiated the era of social and economic rights jurisprudence in India.97The first case to test the position of social and economic rights in the Indian Constitution was Olga Tellis v. Bombay, which concerned housing and shelter.98 This public interest litigation was brought on behalf of pavement dwellers against eviction without notice or compensation to the outskirts of the city. They argued that this eviction deprived them of their livelihood, and that this displacement from their source of income infringed their right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Chief Justice Chandrachud observed that it would be “sheer pedantry to exclude the right to livelihood from the content of the right to life.”99 In Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame the court entrenched its position, observing that the right to food, clothing, and reasonable accommodation were encompassed in the right to life,100 which it interpreted as the right to live with dignity and to flourish intellectually and materially.101 The theme of protecting poverty-stricken and vulnerable parts of society with regard to housing issues continued in Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh. Here the court upheld a policy that infringed on the rights of the privileged for the benefit of the marginalized.102 The court also expanded the parameters of the right to life in order to guarantee the right to health. In Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India, the court held that the right to health and medical care was an integral part of the right to life.103 This ruling established the foundations of a positive obligation on the part of the state to ensure certain standards of good health.104 In Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, the court addressed emergency medical care as an iteration of the right to life.105 Here it ordered the removal of legal impediments that prevented some hospitals from treating medicolegal cases, following the death of a traffic accident victim who had been refused admission to such a hospital. The court further ordered that its decision be publicized in order to creating general awareness of the state’s responsibility to provide emergency medical care.106 In Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal, the court reiterated the duty to provide emergency medical care as an integral part of the preservation of life.107 Undeterred by the significant cost implications, it ordered that equipment and facilities be provided to ensure the preservation of life in emergency medical situations.108 However, the court has also accepted resource limitations as a legitimate reason to restrict access in certain circumstances. Faced with the question of whether a reduction in the reimbursement for medical expenses to which one was entitled was a breach of Article 21, the court accepted the state’s contention that the reduction was necessary due to financial constraints.109 This outcome may have been different if the reimbursement benefit was to have been removed entirely, rather than reduced, as medical care must be affordable in order to be within the reach of all.110 151


The case of Laxmi Mandal v. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital expanded on the Paschim Banga judgment.111 The case was brought on behalf of a woman who died as a result of carrying a dead fetus in her womb. It was the first case worldwide to recognize preventable maternal mortality as a human rights violation.112 She had been refused access to emergency maternal care because her husband was unable to show a valid ration card for medical services, a card to which he was in fact entitled. The High Court of Delhi found that there had been systematic failure on the part of the state. Declaring that it was the responsibility of the state to ensure that valid ration cards were circulated, the court ordered an overhaul of that system. The overhaul included the requirement for the state to seek out those in need of ration cards. The court also mandated the establishment of monitoring systems to ensure that its orders were being fully implemented. Since that judgment, a plethora of cases involving maternal healthcare have come before the court.113 It is noteworthy that the court’s initial activism in this area has not diminished. In 2010, on its own motion, the court brought a case against the Union of India following reports of a destitute woman who died several days after giving birth on the street.114 After a preliminary hearing, the court ordered the government of Delhi to open five homes exclusively for pregnant or lactating destitute women, establish a helpline to promote the homes, make food and medical care available 24 hours a day in the shelters, disseminate information about the shelters, host awareness camps, mobilize medical units to bring women to the shelters, and involve NGOs. The state took issue with the expansive nature of the orders and filed objections to this effect. Nevertheless, and pending final determination of the appeals process, they were ordered to implement immediately two of the shelters with food and medical care. In 2013, the conditions of those shelters were brought before the court following the death of a baby.115 Following an inspection of the facility and a finding of unsatisfactory conditions,116 the court ordered several remedial measures, including a supplemental nutrition, adequate hot water, heating in winter, and dedicated space for prenatal checkups.117 It is even more interesting that such extensive measures in relation to emergency medical care and maternity care do have precedents. The ongoing public interest litigation in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties illustrates the dramatic measures taken to protect social and economic rights.118 This case, instigated in 2001, initially sought an order to compel the government to release food stocks on behalf of those dying of starvation in the state of Rajasthan. Over a number of years, the open case was establishing the principle of an intrinsic link between the right to food and the constitutionally protected right to life. The litigation continued until the subject matter was overtaken by legislation, and during that time the Supreme Court issued a plethora of orders regarding grain allocation, a midday meal scheme in schools, ration cards for those living below the poverty line, and the operation of ration shops. Orders were also issued for a price-setting mechanism for grain, for the doubling of the grain allocation in a work-for-food scheme, and for the increase of financial assistance for these schemes. Some criticized this activism, arguing that the court was acting outside of its mandate, breaching the separation of powers, and pursuing its own political agenda. The efficacy of the court’s orders has been scrutinized and found wanting in many instances. Nevertheless, the court has had an impact on the implementation of law and policy through its directive principles, in a system rife with corruption. With regard to developing the justiciability of social and economic rights, Canada falls more or less midway between South Africa and India. The main instrument protecting 152


human rights in Canada is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982),119 which incorporates seven classes of rights and freedoms.120 There is no explicit provision for social and economic rights, but section 7, ensuring life, liberty, and security of the person, and section 15, guaranteeing equality,121 have been interpreted as encompassing social and economic rights, and this possibility was apparent even in the earliest cases. A defining case for social and economic rights in Canada was Victoria City v. Adams, which challenged the constitutionality of a bylaw that had been enacted to prohibit temporary shelters in public parks.122 In seeking to enforce the bylaw and remove the temporary shelters that had been erected by homeless people, the city argued that this was a justified measure to prevent damage to the park. Evidence of the lack of availability and overcrowding in the city’s homeless shelters was adduced.123 The British Columbia Supreme Court held that sleep and shelter were necessary preconditions to life and rejected the contention that Charter rights could not be engaged without positive action from the state.124 It therefore struck down the bylaw as breaching section 7 of the Charter. While this judgment does not impose positive obligations on the state to provide adequate shelter, it does impose negative obligations.125 The court did not order the provision of more spaces in homeless shelters, nor did it require that the park dwellers be housed in public housing. Rather, where these were not available, the state could not arbitrarily remove the temporary shelters, as they were deemed to be essential to life. For that matter, early cases in which applicants sought state-funded healthcare under section 7 of the Charter were unsuccessful: The court held that the provision did not include a guarantee to enhance life, liberty, or security of the person.126 However, restrictions on access to healthcare were struck down. For example, criminal restrictions on therapeutic abortions came to be regarded as unconstitutional,127 and the denial of sign language support in medical care was found impermissibly to impede access to healthcare.128 The Canadian Supreme Court case of PHS Community Services v. Canada, also known as the Insite case, has entrenched the status of the social and economic rights within the Charter.129 The case related to a drug consumption room that had been established as a harm reduction mechanism, due to a widespread addiction problem in the city. The facility, called Insite, operated under an exemption to the criminal law for an initial three years, which was then extended by 15 months. Following a change in government, plans were announced to discontinue the exemption and close the facility.130 Insite brought a claim to the British Columbia Supreme Court that the state would be in breach of section 7 of the Charter if the exemption were terminated and the facility closed.131 That court found that, given that the staff managed and prevented the spread of disease and provided services that amounted to healthcare,132 the withdrawal of the exemption would prevent access to healthcare and therefore engage the right to life and section 7. The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, determining that the right to life was engaged, as the service prevented death by overdose, and, further, that the injection of drugs without medical supervision posed a risk to life.133 On final appeal to the Canadian Supreme Court, the removal of the exemption was unanimously held to breach Charter rights. Chief Justice McLachlin stated that “where the law creates a risk to health by preventing access to health care, a deprivation of the right to security of the person is made out.”134 To date, the Canadian courts have not declared positive obligations in respect of social and economic rights, although such an outcome is possible. In Gosselin v. Quebec, then-justice McLachlin felt that the Charter should be allowed to develop incrementally 153


and that its content should not be constricted by previous cases,135 and the court’s language in Insite is indicative of future possibilities.136 However, a recent attempt to impose positive obligations was rejected without a hearing. The case, named Tanudjaja v. Canada, was brought by a group of housing activists who alleged that the Ontario government’s legislative and policy changes had resulted in inadequate housing and increased homelessness.137 In essence, they were asking the court to determine whether sections 7 and 15 of the Charter carried a positive obligation to be housed. The petition was initially rejected and the Court of Appeal upheld that determination, as the challenge pointed to a complex matrix of policies rather than any specific offending law. The majority on the Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s decision, so there was no further discussion of whether positive obligations regarding homelessness could be placed on the state. In a dissenting judgment, however, Justice Feldman opined that it was too early to decide whether this case contained circumstances that could merit the court imposing positive obligations, and she strongly advocated hearing the case.138 Leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court was rejected in 2015. Nevertheless, Canada has shown that it is possible to protect social and economic rights adequately without imposing excessively burdensome positive obligations.

Conclusion As social and economic rights continue to lack protection equivalent to that of civil and political rights, judicial intervention is a necessary step in the approximation of rights. Without this oversight or enforcement, social and economic rights remain overlooked, neglected, or even denied by governments. As the jurisprudence shows, justiciability enhances accountability, which in turn makes a significant difference to the protection and vindication of these most fundamental of human rights.

Notes 1 United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945 UN Document 1 UNTSXVI. Online. Available at src=IND&mtdsg_no=I-1&chapter=1&clang=_en (accessed 29 December 2018). 2 This was primarily due to pressure from the Western-dominated Commission on Human Rights. See UN Document A2929 (1955) 7. Online. Available at UNDOC/GEN/N55/173/02/PDF/N5517302.pdf?OpenElement (accessed 29 December 2018). 3 Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, 2010. 4 Steven L. B. Jensen, The Making of International Human Rights Law: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 5 World Conference on Human Rights, “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” 1993, §5. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 6 United Nations, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (ICCPR), adopted on 16 December 1966 and entered into force on 23 March 1976. See UN Document 999 UNTS 171. Online. Available at objid=0800000280004bf5. See also UN Document 1057 UNTS 407/[1980] ATS 23/6 ILM 368 (1967). Online. Available at 20999/volume-999-i-14668-english.pdf (both accessed 29 December 2018). 7 United Nations, “International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights” (ICESCR), adopted on 16 December 1966 and entered into force on 3 January 1976. See



8 9 10 11 12

13 14 15

16 17

18 19 20

21 22 23

24 25 26

UN Document 993 UNTS 3/[1976] ATS 5/6 ILM 360 (1967). Online. Available at https:// (accessed 29 December 2018). Daniel J. Whelan and Jack Donnelly, “The West, Economic and Social Rights, and the Global Human Rights Regime: Setting the Record Straight,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2007, vol. 29, no. 4, 931. ICESCR, Part II, Article 2(1). Henry Steiner, Ryan Goodman, and Philip Alston, International Human Rights Law in Context: Law Politics Morals, 3rd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 284. In contrast to the ICESCR, the ICCPR contained within its first optional protocol an individual complaints mechanism to the Human Rights Committee. See UN Document 999 UNTS 171 (see n. 6). Catarina de Albuquerque, “Chronicle of an Announced Birth: The Coming into Life of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights – The Missing Piece of the International Bill of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2010, vol. 32, 144. ICCPR, Article 2(3). “Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” 26 January 1997, Article 6. Online. Available at lines_.html (accessed 29 December 2018). Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Review of the Composition, Organization and Administrative Arrangements of the Sessional Working Group of Governmental Experts on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” 28 May 1985. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution 1985/17. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). “Maastricht Guidelines.” United Nations Economic and Social Council, “An Evaluation of the Obligation to Take Steps to the Maximum of Available Resources under an Optional Protocol to the Covenant,” 2007. UN Document E/C.12/2007/1. Online. Available at UNDOC/GEN/G07/441/63/PDF/G0744163.pdf?OpenElement (accessed 29 December 2018). Limburg Principles on the Implementation of the ICESCR, Annex, §21. UN Document E/ CN4/1987/17. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). Sandra Liebenberg, Socio-Economic Rights: Adjudication Under a Transformative Constitution, Cape Town: Juta Academic, 2010, p. 190. United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 19 The Right to Social Security (Article 9 of the Covenant),” adopted 23 November 2007, §42. UN Document E/C.12/GC/19. Online. Available at 47b17b5b39c.html (accessed 29 December 2018). Colm O’Cinneide, “Austerity and the Faded Dream of a Social Europe,” in Aoife Nolan (ed.) Economic Social and Cultural Rights after the Global Financial Crisis, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 21. Mesenbet Assefa, “Defining Minimum Core Conundrums in International Human Rights Law and Lessons from the Constitutional Court of South Africa,” Mekelle University Law Journal, 2010, vol. 1, no. 1, 50. United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 3 The Nature of States Parties’ Obligations (Article 2, Paragraph 1, of the Covenant),” §10. UN Document E/1991/23. Online. Available at .html (accessed 29 December 2018). United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 15: The Right to Water (Arts. 11 and 12 of the Covenant),” §44. UN Document E/C.12/2002/11. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). “General Comment No. 3,” §10. Katharine G. Young, “The Minimum Core of Social and Economic Rights: A Concept in Search of Content,” Yale Journal of International Law, 2008, vol. 33, 113.



27 Young, “The Minimum Core of Social and Economic Rights,” 126. 28 “General Comment No. 3,” §10. 29 E.g. in Khosa v. Minister of Social Development 2004 (6) SA 505 (CC), the South African Constitutional Court emphasized the connection between dignity and social assistance. Online. Available at>. See also Social and Economic Rights Action Centre v. Nigeria, Comm No. 155/96 2001–2. The African Commission held that the right to food is inseparably linked to dignity. Online. Available at www (both accessed 29 December 2018). 30 Oscar Schachter, “Human Dignity as a Normative Concept,” American Journal of International Law, 1983, vol. 77, 848. 31 For a full analysis of these, see Claire-Michelle Smyth, “Social and Economic Rights in a Post Neo-Liberal Society,” in Claire-Michelle Smyth and Richard Lang (eds.) The Future of Human Rights in the UK, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017. 32 Lon Fuller, “The Forms and Limits of Adjudication,” Harvard Law Review, 1978, vol. 92, 353; J. W. F. Allison, “Fuller’s Analysis of Polycentric Disputes and the Limits of Adjudication,” Cambridge Law Journal, 1994, vol. 53, 367. 33 Tara Melish, “Introductory Note to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” International Legal Materials, 2009, vol. 48, 256. 34 For an overview of the main arguments used in negotiations, see Malcolm Langford, “Closing the Gap? – An Introduction to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 2009, vol. 27, no. 1, 9–18. 35 UN Economic and Social Council, “Report of First Session,” 15 March 2004, p. 7. UN Document E/CN.4/2004/44. Online. Available at UNDOC/GEN/G04/120/29/PDF/G0412029.pdf?OpenElement. UN Economic and Social Council, “Report of Fourth Session,” 30 August 2007, 5. UN Document A/HRC/6/8. Online. Available at PDF/G0713889.pdf?OpenElement (both accessed 29 December 2018). 36 United Nations, “Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” UN Document. A/RES/63/117. Online. Available at lish/bodies/cescr/docs/A-RES-63-117.pdf (accessed 29 December 2018). For a detailed analysis of the background to the optional protocol’s drafting, see Claire Mahon, “Progress at the Front: The Draft Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” Human Rights Law Review, 2008, vol. 8, 617–46. 37 United Nations, “Optional Protocol,” Articles 3(1) and 3(2). 38 United Nations, “Optional Protocol,” Article 3(2b). 39 United Nations, “Optional Protocol,” Article 5. 40 Claire-Michelle Smyth, “The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights in Ireland: Will It Make a Difference?” Socio-Legal Studies Review, 2013, vol. 2, 1–22. 41 United Nations, “Optional Protocol,” Article 8(4). Brian Griffey, “The Reasonableness Test: Assessing Violations of State Obligations under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” Human Rights Law Review, 2011, vol. 11, no. 2, 291–304. 42 Bruce Porter, “The Reasonableness of Article 8(4) – Adjudicating Claims from the Margin,” Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 2009, vol. 27, no. 1, 39–40. 43 De Albuquerque, “Chronicle of an Announced Birth,” 177. 44 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “Case of Airey v. Ireland. Judgement,” 1979. 2 EHRR 305. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 45 ECtHR, “Case of Moldovan v. Romania,” Judgements No. 1 and 2, 2005. ECHR 458. Online. Available at (Judgement No. 1) and http:// (Judgement No. 2) (accessed 29 December 2018). 46 ECtHR, “Case of Connors v. United Kingdom, Judgement,” 2004. ECHR 223. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 47 ECtHR, “Case of Yordanova and others v. Bulgaria,” 2012. Application No. 25446/06. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018).



48 ECtHR, “Case of Petrovic v. Austria,” 1998. Application No. 20458/92. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 49 ECtHR, “Case of D v. UK,” 1997. EHRR 423. Online. Available at, ECHR,46deb3452.html. ECtHR, “Case of N v. UK,” 2008, Application No. 26565/05. Online. Available at ECHR, “Case of S. J. v. Belgium,” 2015. ECHR 543. Online. Available at ECtHR, “Case of Paposhvili v. Belgium,” 2016. Application No. 41738/10. Online. Available at http:// (all accessed 29 December 2018). 50 ECtHR, “Affaire Soares de Melo c. Portugal,” 2016. Application No. 72850/14. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 51 Organization of American States (OAS), “American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,” adopted by the Ninth International Conference of American States, 1948. Online. Available at n_of_the_Rights_and_Duties_of_Man.pdf (accessed 29 December 2018). See Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman, International Human Rights: The Successor to International Human Rights in Context, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013, p. 978. See Articles XI, XII, XV, XVI. 52 OAS, “American Convention on Human Rights. Adopted at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights, San José, Costa Rica, 22 November 1969.” Entered into force on 22 November 1969. Also known as the Pact of San Jose. Online. Available at /basicos/english/basic3.american%20convention.htm (accessed 29 December 2018). 53 For a full discussion see Tara Melish, Protecting Economic Social and Cultural Rights in the InterAmerican Human Rights System. A Manual on Presenting Claims, Quito and New Haven: Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales and Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, 2002, pp. 233–332. 54 Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), “Case of the ‘Street Children’ (VillagranMorales et al.) v. Guatemala. Judgment,” 1999. Online. Available at, IACRTHR,4b17bc442.html (accessed 29 December 2018). 55 Monica Feria Tinta, “Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the InterAmerican System of Protection of Human Rights: Beyond Traditional Paradigms and Notions,” Human Rights Quarterly, 2007, vol. 29, 446. 56 OAS, “Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” 1999. Also known as the Protocol of San Salvador. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 57 IACHR, “Juridical Condition and Human Rights of the Child. Advisory Opinion OC-17/ 2002 of 28 August 2002, Requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,” 2002. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 58 The court ordered the provision of proper medical treatment for a detainee with heart disease in the Cesti-Hurtado and Mendoza Prison cases. See IACHR, “Case of Cesti-Hurtado v. Peru. Judgment,” 1999. Online. Available at and IACHR, “Case of Mendoza et al. v. Argentina. Judgement,” 2013. Online. Available at www In the Febem Prison case, the court made orders in relation to overcrowding, sanitation and nutrition to ensure conditions for detainees and workers compatible with their dignity. See IACHR, “Order of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of 4 July 2006. Provisional Measures and Request for Extension of Provisional Measures Regarding the Federative Republic of Brazil. Matter of Children and Adolescents Deprived of Liberty in the ‘Complexo do Tatuapé’ of Febem,” 2006. Online. Available at www. (all accessed 29 December 2018). 59 Colm O’Cinneide, “The Constitutionalization of Social and Economic Rights,” in Helena Alviar Garcia, Karl Klare, and Lucy A. Williams (eds.) Social and Economic Rights in Theory and in Practice: Critical Enquiries, London: Routledge, 2014, p. 268. 60 Identification of these provisions was made by way of a search of world constitutions using the Constitute website. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 61 The constitution of Croatia entered into force on 22 December 1990 and protects the right to social assistance (Article 58), the right to healthcare (Articles 59 and 70) and the right to




63 64


66 67

68 69 70

71 72 73

74 75 76

education (Article 66). Online. Available at atia_2013?lang=en (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of the Czech Republic entered into force 1 January 1993 and protects the right to social assistance (Article 30), the right to health (Article 31) and the right to education (Article 33). Online. Available at lic_2013?lang=en (accessed 29 December 2018). The Charter is online. Available at www. sion.pdf. The constitution of Finland entered into force 1 March 2000 and protects the right to social security and housing assistance (§19) and the right to education (§16). Online. Available at 29 December 2018). The constitution of Moldova entered into force 29 July 1994 and protects the right to education (Article 35), the right of health security (Article 36), the right to live in a healthy environment (Article 37), and the right to social assistance, including food, clothing, shelter and medical care (Article 47). Online. Available at dova_2016?lang=en (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of Hungary entered into force 25 April 2011 and protects the right to education (Article XI), social security (Article XIX), the right to health (Article XX), and the right to decent housing conditions (Article XXII). Online. Available at /constitution/Hungary_2016?lang=en (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of Poland entered into force 2 April 1997 and protects the right to health (Article 68). Online. Available at lang=en (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of Serbia entered into force 8 November 2006 and protects the right to health (Article 68), the right to education (Article 71), and social protection (Article 69). Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of Switzerland entered into force 18 April 1999 and protects the right to social assistance (Article 12) and the right to basic education (Article 19). Online. Available at www.con (accessed 29 December 2018). The constitution of the Republic of South Africa was approved by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996 and entered into force on 4 February 1997. Online. Available at www. (accessed 29 December 2018). For an in-depth analysis of the debate on constitutionalizing social and economic rights in the South African constitution, see Craig Scott and Patrick Macklem, “Constitutional Ropes of Sand or Justiciable Guarantees? Social Rights in a New South African Constitution,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 1992, vol. 141, 1–148 and Liebenberg, Socio-Economic Rights. See the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, §26 (housing), §27 (healthcare, food, social security), and §28 shelter (with respect to children). Marius Pieterse, “Beyond the Welfare State: Globalisation of Neo-Liberal Culture and the Constitutional Protection of Social and Economic Rights in South Africa,” Stellenbosch Law Review, 2003, vol. 14, no. 3, 9. The first case, regarding Certification of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (CCT 23/96) [1996] ZACC 26; 1996 (4) SA 744 (CC); 1996 (10) BCLR 1253 (CC) (6 September 1996), found that the inclusion of social and economic rights in the Constitution did not breach the separation of powers and was Constitutional. See Jeremy Sarkin, “The Drafting of South Africa’s Final Constitution from a Human Rights Perspective,” American Journal of Comparative Law, 1999, vol. 47, 67. Constitutional Court, South Africa, Soobramoney v. Minister of Health (Kwazulu-Natal) (CCT32/97) [1997] ZACC 17; 1998 (1) SA 765 (CC); 1997 (12) BCLR 1696 (27 November 1997). Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, §27(3). This is expressly provided for in §27(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa: “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources to achieve progressive realisation.”



77 Eric C. Christiansen, “Adjudicating Non-Justiciable Rights: Socio-Economic Rights and the South African Constitution,” Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 2007, vol. 38, 321. 78 Case of Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others (CCT11/00) [2000] ZACC 19; 2001 (1) SA 46; 2000 (11) BCLR 1169 (4 October 2000). Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 79 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa: “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing,” §26(1); “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of this right,” §26(2); “No one may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without an order of the court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions,” §26(3). 80 The High Court Judgment of Justice Davis is referred to in the case of Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others, on pp. 3–4. See n. 78. 81 For a full history of the case, see Rosalind Dixon, “Creating Dialogue about Socio-Economic Rights: Strong-Form versus Weak-Form Judicial Review Revisited,” International Journal of Constitutional Law, 2007, vol. 5, 391. 82 This is referred to in the case of Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others, on p. 149. See n. 78. 83 This is referred to in the case of Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others, on p. 149. See n. 78. 84 Marius Pieterse, “Coming to Terms with Judicial Enforcement of Socio-Economic Rights,” South African Journal of Human Rights, 2004, vol. 20, 383. 85 These cases are the following: Jaftha v. Schoeman and Others, Van Rooyen v. Stoltz and Others (CCT74/03) [2004] ZACC 25; 2005 (2) SA 140 (CC); 2005 (1) BCLR 78 (CC) (8 October 2004). Online. Available at City of Johannesburg v. Rand Properties (Pty) Ltd (253/06) [2007] ZASCA 25; [2007] 2 All SA 459 (SCA); 2007 (6) SA 417 (SCA); 2007 (6) BCLR 643 (SCA) (26 March 2007). Online. Available at Abahlali Basemjondolo Movement SA and Another v. Premier of the Province of Kwazulu-Natal and Others (CCT12/09) [2009] ZACC 31; 2010 (2) BCLR 99 (CC) (14 October 2009). Online. Available at 2009/31.html (all accessed 29 December 2018). 86 Khosa and Others v. Minister of Social Development and Others, Mahlaule and Another v. Minister of Social Development (CCT 13/03, CCT 12/03) [2004] ZACC 11; 2004 (6) SA 505 (CC); 2004 (6) BCLR 569 (CC) (4 March 2004). Online. Available at 11.html (accessed 29 December 2018). 87 Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others, on p. #. See n. 78. 88 Minister of Health and Others v. Treatment Action Campaign and Others (No 1) (CCT9/02) [2002] ZACC 16; 2002 (5) SA 703; 2002 (10) BCLR 1075 (5 July 2002). Online. Available at www (accessed 29 December 2018). 89 This drug dramatically reduces the chance of infection of the child with HIV during birth. At this time South Africa was in the midst of a HIV epidemic and manufacturers had agreed to provide the drug freely to the state for five years. 90 Minister of Health and Another v. New Clicks South Africa (Pty) Ltd and Others (CCT59/04A) [2005] ZACC 25; 2006 (8) BCLR 872 (CC) (30 September 2005). The High Court’s orders are referred to at items 85–87. Online. Available at .html (accessed 29 December 2018). 91 Minister of Health and Others v. Treatment Action Campaign and Others (No 2) (CCT8/02) [2002] ZACC 15; 2002 (5) SA 721; 2002 (10) BCLR 1033 (5 July 2002). Orders at §135. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 92 Mazibuko and Others v. City of Johannesburg and Others (06/13865) [2008] ZAGPHC 491; [2008] 4 All SA 471 (W) (30 April 2008). Case No. 06/13865. Online. Available at /za/cases/ZAGPHC/2008/491.html (accessed 29 December 2018). 93 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, §27(1)(b) states that “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water.” 94 Mazibuko and Others v. City of Johannesburg and Others, §160.



95 City of Johannesburg and Others v. Mazibuko and Others (489/08) [2009] ZASCA 20; 2009 (3) SA 592 (SCA); 2009 (8) BCLR 791 (SCA); [2009] 3 All SA 202 (SCA) (25 March 2009). Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 96 Mazibuko and Others v. City of Johannesburg and Others (CCT 39/09) [2009] ZACC 28; 2010 (3) BCLR 239 (CC); 2010 (4) SA 1 (CC) (8 October 2009). See §9 and §56. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 97 The court had previously engaged the right to life to determine cases involving bail in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597). Online. Available at /jonew/judis/5154.pdf (accessed 29 December 2018). It had engaged the issue of treatment in custody in the case of Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi AIR 1981 SC 746. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 98 Case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay AIR 1986 SC 180. Online. Available at judis/9246.pdf (accessed 29 December 2018). 99 Case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay, §2.2. 100 Case of Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame, Civil Appeal No. 2598/1989 (1990) 1 SCC 520. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 101 Jessie Hohmann, “Mumbai: The Struggle for the Right to Housing,” Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, 2013, vol. 13, 135. 102 Case of Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996) 2 SCC 549. See Hohmann, “Mumbai,” 140. 103 Case of Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India (1995) 3 SCC 42. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 104 Sheetal B. Shah, “Illuminating the Possible in the Developing World: Guaranteeing the Human Right to Health in India,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, 1999, vol. 32, 435. 105 Case of Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, AIR 1989 SC 2039. Online. Available at www. (accessed 29 December 2018). 106 Sarvepelli Radhakrishnan, “Development of Human Rights in an Indian Context,” International Journal of Legal Information, 2008, vol. 36, 303–15. 107 Case of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal 1996 3 SCJ 25. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 108 Jennifer Sellin, “Justiciability of the Right to Health – Access to Medicines – The South African and Indian Experience,” Erasmus Law Review, 2009, vol. 2, no. 4, 445–62. 109 Case of State of Punjab v. Ram Lubhaya Bagga (1998) 4 SCC 117. Online. Available at www.sci. (accessed 29 December 2018). 110 Case of Vincent Panikurlangara v. Union of India (1987) 2 SCC 165. Online. Available at www.sci. (accessed 29 December 2018). 111 Case of Laxmi Mandal v. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital & Ors WP (C) 8853/2008. Online. Available at SMD04062010CW88532008.pdf (accessed 29 December 2018). 112 Sukti Dhital and Jayshree Satpute, “Claiming the Right to Safe Motherhood through Litigation: The Indian Story,” in Garcia et al., Social and Economic Rights in Theory and in Practice, p. 159. 113 Twenty-five cases were lodged between 2010 and 2013. Dhital and Satpute, “Claiming the Right to Safe Motherhood.” 114 Case of Court on its own Motion v. Union of India (WP 5913/2010). Online. Available at http:// (accessed 29 December 2018). 115 Case of Priya Kale v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Ors WP (C) 641/2013. Online. Available at (accessed 2018). 116 “Follow Up Fact-Finding Report: Priya Kale v. GNCT of Delhi and Ors,” 25 May 2016. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 117 Dhital and Satpute, “Claiming the Right to Safe Motherhood,” p. 165. The order is online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 118 People’s Union for Civil Liberties & Ors v. India Writ No 196 of 2001. It has been overtaken by legislation (the National Food Security Act of 2013). See “Office Report,” 31 January 2017. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018).



119 Canada, “Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Part I of the “Constitution Act, 1982.” Enacted as Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c. 11. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). See Patrick Macklem, “Social Rights in Canada,” in Daphne Barak-Erez and Eyal M. Gross (eds.) Exploring Social Rights: Between Theory and Practice, Oxford: Hart, 2007, pp. 213–42. 120 Canada, “Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” §2 (fundamental freedoms), §3 to §5 (democratic rights), §6 (mobility rights), §7 to §14 (legal rights), §15 and §28 (equality rights), §16 to §22 (language rights), and §23 (minority language education rights). 121 Canada, “Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” §7 (“everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”) and §15(1) (“every individual is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability”). 122 Case of Victoria City v. Adams 2008 BCSC 1363. Online. Available at /Jdb-txt/SC/08/13/2008BCSC1363.htm (accessed 29 December 2018). 123 The case of Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General) [2005] 1 SCR 791 was relied upon in this regard. The Supreme Court struck down a provision that prohibited individuals from obtaining private health care. Evidence of long delays in accessing medical care was adduced and the court found that the provision engaged the right to life. While the court did not require the state to provide the care, it found that the state could not prevent the procurement of private treatment. See generally Christopher P. Manfredi and Antonia Maioni, “The Last Line of Defence for the Citizen: Litigating Private Health Insurance in Chaoulli v. Quebec,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 2006, vol. 44, no. 2, 249–71; Thomas M. J. Bateman, “Legal Modesty and Political Boldness: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in Chaoulli v. Quebec,” Review of Constitutional Studies, 2006, vol. 11, no. 2, 317–43; and Jamie Cameron, “From the MRV to Chaoulli v. Canada: The Road Not Taken and the Future of Section 7,” Supreme Court Law Review, 2006, vol. 34, 105–68. 124 Victoria City v. Adams 2008 BCSC 1363, §39, where the Attorney General claimed that the deprivation must arise from state action, and, since the government did not cause the homelessness, the Charter could not be invoked. 125 Margot E. Young, “Rights, the Homeless and Social Change: Reflections on Victoria City v. Adams (BCSC),” British Columbia Studies, 2009, vol. 164, 103–13. 126 Brown v. British Columbia (Minister for Health) (1990) 6 DLR (4th) 444 BCSC. 127 R. v. Morgentaler [1988] 1 SCR 30. Online. Available at /scc-csc/en/item/288/ (accessed 29 December 2018). The restriction required a woman to obtain the approval from a committee of an approved hospital. Failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution. 128 Eldridge v. British Columbia (1997)151 DLR (4th) 577 (SCC). Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). See also Isabel Grant and Judith Mossof, “Hearing Claims of Inequality – Eldridge v. British Columbia,” Canadian Journal of Women and Law, 1998, vol. 10, 229–43. 129 PHS Community Services v. Canada 2011 SCC 44. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018). 130 For detailed background to the case, see Margot E. Young, “Context, Choice, and Rights: PHS Community Services v. Canada (Attorney General),” University of British Columbia Law Review, 2011, vol. 44, 221–54; Claire-Michelle Smyth and Siobhan Kelly, “Drug Consumption Rooms: Towards the Right to Health for Addicts,” Irish Law Times, 2013, vol. 31, 197. 131 PHS Community Services Ltd v. Canada (Attorney General) [2008] BCSC 661. Online. Available at www (accessed 29 December 2018). 132 These services included prenatal classes for pregnant women, who may not have received them otherwise due to their addictions. 133 2010 BCCA 15, 314 DLR (4th) 209. Online. Available at 10/00/2010BCCA0015cor1.htm (accessed 29 December 2018). 134 Case of Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society, 2011 SCC 44 §93. Online. Available at (accessed 29 December 2018).



135 Case of Gosselin v. Quebec, [2002] SCC 42 §79. Online. Available at /scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2027/ (accessed 29 December 2018). 136 Matthew Rottier Voell, “PHS Community Services Society v. Canada (Attorney General): Positive Health Rights, Health Care Policy, and Section 7 of the Charter,” Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues, 2011, vol. 31, 41–56. 137 Case of Tanudjaja v. Canada, 2014 ONCA 852. Online. Available at sions/2014/2014ONCA0852.htm (accessed 29 December 2018). 138 Case of Tanudjaja v. Canada, 2014 ONCA 852 §49.


9 ISLAM AND UN HUMAN RIGHTS T R E A T Y R A T I F I CAT ION IN T H E MIDDLE EAST The impact of international law on diplomacy Rachel A. George

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was first introduced at the United Nations (UN) in 1948, Lebanese politician and UN representative Charles Habib Malik proclaimed that the Declaration was a “potent ideological weapon” that “if wielded in complete goodwill, sincerity and truth, can prove most significant in the history of the spirit.”1 The hope was that the Declaration, in solidifying and enshrining common understandings of the human rights, would help secure their recognition and observance in every country, regardless of social and cultural differences.2 Most scholars today agree that this view was overly optimistic. International human rights agreements, though very numerous and also wide in scope, are often violated without consequence. By most measures, the impact of international human rights law on improving states’ human rights records has been modest, at best. And, although international human rights declarations and treaties enjoy widespread support and purport to represent international consensus regarding the meanings of human rights, conceptualizations of the vision remain disputed and heterogeneous across countries and cultures. Some of today’s pessimism is misguided. International human rights law does have influence, although it is often subtle. To understand the power of international law, scholars would benefit from closer consideration of the impact of UN human rights treaty ratification in cases such as those in the Middle East where compliance has been minimal, but engagement with international human rights law has helped frame and influence the ways in which Middle Eastern actors communicate ideas about human rights. This essay explores the impact of UN human rights treaties in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by examining diplomatic discourses relating to three core UN human rights treaties: the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). All three conventions were widely ratified across MENA in the 1990s and 2000s.3 First, the essay will establish the broad landscape in which Islam and human rights were discussed principally by government representatives, as well as other lawyers, activists, and diplomats in the MENA region over time. The essay will then go on to analyze the content and nature of the Reservations,



Understandings and Declarations (RUDs) concerning Islam that MENA states have submitted upon commitment to these human rights conventions. Next, the essay will analyze resulting diplomatic dialogues surrounding Islam and ratification taking place within international treaty committees as part of regular reporting procedures, and will consider the impact on broader dialogue between diplomats and MENA civil society groups. Finally, the essay offers conclusions regarding my observations of the convergence demonstrated by MENA actors’ increasing use of UN human rights concepts as understood through an Islamic perspective.

Syria Lebanon Iraq Jordan OPT* Kuwait

Tunisia Morocco Algeria Libya


Afghanistan Iran Pakistan

Bahrain Qatar Saudi Arabia UAE Oman


Yemen Djibouti Somalia N

*Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)

Figure 9.1 Map of the MENA region, including the countries discussed in this essay.

The essay shows that there is a great diversity in the ways in which MENA states communicate concerns about compatibility between Islam and international law during UN meetings. It also demonstrates that ratification of the three conventions has helped stimulate discussions that underscore the similarities and differences in understandings about Islam and human rights within the region. MENA states are engaging in balancing conservative Muslim principles with this modern language of human rights in different ways. The essay highlights such variation. Beyond this, it also contributes to a growing convergence in the vocabulary used by MENA actors around UN human rights concepts. I argue that a diverse and evolving diplomatic discourse about Islam and human rights in MENA has resulted from UN human rights treaty ratification. A deeper understanding of such discourses can provide a clearer picture of the limits and potential for human rights activism in the Middle East.

Theoretical puzzles Because the international system lacks direct enforcement mechanisms, the status of these laws as “law” at all has been challenged.4 There is little to no correlation between human rights treaty ratification and human rights compliance in practice.5 This has led some leading scholars to claim that “the world’s idealists have thrown too much law at 164


problems of human rights” without offering effective solutions to the world’s human rights problems.6 The MENA region is case in point. MENA states ratified most human rights treaties throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, but there is little evidence this step has made a difference in improving human rights practices as a result of ratification. MENA states rate consistently poorly in various international human rights monitoring rankings (for example, despite widespread ratification of UN human rights treaties, the US-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom House, which conducts research and provides annual reports on democracy, political freedom, and human rights, ranks the category of “Middle East and North Africa” in its 2016 global freedom rankings as 5 percent free.7 And, in the Global Gender Gap index’s most current rankings, the Middle East and North Africa region ranks consistently poorly, with only Israel listed as having a “gender gap” of 30 percent or below).8 For this reason, the region is often ignored in existing scholarly work on international human rights law. Some write it off as a blanket example of the futility of the treaties, without providing any account for the diverse and evolving ways that MENA states have interacted with human rights treaties over time. There is a need for international human rights law scholarship to analyze with greater subtlety the growing engagement with international human rights law in the Middle East. Here I demonstrate the value of a different approach, examining the discourse on Islam and human rights emerging in the 1990s and 2000s out of the region’s diplomatic responses to human rights laws, regardless of the compliance issues that have followed. This essay focuses on one particular element of engagement: discussions among MENA and UN diplomats as a result of ratification of the core human rights treaties in the region over time. Scholars often discuss Islam in terms of so-called issues of “incompatibility” between Islam and international human rights laws.9 While focusing on Islam, and, particularly, the ways in which it is discussed in diplomatic discourses related to UN human rights treaties is just one lens through which to consider MENA engagement with the diplomats and stakeholders participating in UN human rights committees, this focus offers insights into how arguments about human rights among MENA diplomats have developed as a result of engagement with UN human rights law.

Islam and human rights in MENA Since the early expansion of the Islamic empire from the seventh century, law in the Middle East has been traditionally “anchored to religious institutions and personnel.”10 Law in the region was seen as derived from divine origin, based on the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. In reality, however, Islamic law has been far from static, and instead highly dynamic and evolving. Far from being anchored in some unmoving divine authority, sacred law has been closely intertwined with the social and political context in which it was interpreted throughout history. Islamic law can be seen, as historian Noel Coulson writes, as “an evolving legal system.”11 Sharia was invoked broadly in early Islamic history by clerics (‘ulama) and interpreted to regulate a wide range of affairs, from civil transactions, taxation, penal law, to most other areas of criminal and social and family law. Islamic legal scholar Sami Zubaida argues, There is a common view that the Shari’a is fixed and clearly discernible from its sacred sources … Shar’ia is a product of articulations of legal discourses and 165


institutions to varying patterns of society and politics. The holy law has coexisted and interacted with statute laws issued by rulers, as well as customary conduct, sometimes extending its vocabulary and concepts to cover these existing practices.12 In addition to a lasting influence of Islam in legal systems across the Middle East, Western secular legal traditions have had also had a strong influence on modern Middle Eastern legal systems. Starting with the Ottoman system of the nineteenth century the modern state (the extensive modernizing reform of during the tanzimat era, 1839–76), legal systems across the Middle East were highly influenced by European law, among other influences.13 The processes of modernization and reform in the Ottoman lands led to upheavals in legal systems, including widespread changes of legal and institutional systems across the region in which laws moved away from traditional and divine understandings to include those informed by a secular state.14 Even when the Shari’a was the formal source of legislation, as in the Ottoman civil law codification of the 1860s known as the Majalla, these elements largely reflected European understandings of law.15 Islamic legal historian Noel Coulson observes that there is a constant push between the basic principles in contemporary Islamic law of practical necessity and religious principles: During the first stage of legal modernism these two influences had produced a clear-cut dichotomy in the law. Western law was directly adopted in the field of crime and civil transactions generally, while traditional Shari’a doctrine continued to govern the sphere of personal status.16 Indeed by 1900, religious Sharia law in the Middle East had reduced in scope to mainly concern finite areas of personal status such as child custody, marriage, and inheritance, and dominated less in areas of criminal law.17 Colonial Europe “promoted the idea that personal law was sacred to Muslims and that, out of sensitivity and respect, colonial powers left it alone.”18 As family law emerged as a foothold for Islamic identity, it represented a “last fortress of the Shari’a to survive the ravages of modernization.”19 However, conservative interpretations of Islamic Law remained on the books in some Middle East states in areas of criminal law for example in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where, for example, harsh punishments are on the books for apostasy and blasphemy. These punishments, however, were more commonly imparted by political rulers than by Sharia courts themselves. This was a political rather than purely religious issue, as “Shari’a judges historically tended to be sparing in the application of corporal punishments of amputations and executions. These were undertaken more freely by the rulers.”20 Lasting elements of the Islamic legal system across the Middle East today reflect a special – at times politicized – meaning attributed by states to religious law in the region, particularly in the areas of morality and justice. Law in the Middle East is not just “law” in the modern sense, but “a total discourse of religion, morality and justice. As such it is always exploited as a medium of contest.”21 The legal relevance of Sharia today is strongest and most pervasive in the legal systems of Iran and the Arab Gulf states. In Saudi Arabia, in particular, Islamic law has remained in a much more



traditional and conservative form than in other states of the Middle East. This is what Islamic legal scholar Zubaida calls the “Saudi Exception,”22 saying, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the one major country in the region which has not followed the general pattern of the codification and etatization of law. Saudi courts and qadis (judges) rule in accordance with Hanbali fiqh (jurisprudence), which is not codified as state law but formally left largely to the discretion and ijtihad (reason) of the qadi … the ulama remain the main legislators.23 In Saudi Arabia, strong adherence to conservative principles in Islamic law have also resulted from the monarchy’s quest for legitimacy. Zubaida argues that the political importance of Sharia is strong in bolstering the Saudi monarchy, saying, Religious legitimacy and its agents have been crucial for the defence of the [Saudi] dynasty against modernist political opposition of nationalism, constitutionalism and democracy, as well as against the Islamic opposition from various quarters, mainly centered on the dependence of the dynasty on US power, as well as the perceived hypocrisy and corruption of the royal house and its circles.24 Given this context, it is important to view Islam as a moving and dynamic topic influencing law, society, and power in the Middle East. Of course, the region is not monolithic, and these dynamics play out in varied ways in each country. The ways in which Islam is discussed at the UN, however, reflect certain patterns and commonalities across the region, as well as a heterogeneity in understandings concerning Islam. The era of the proliferation of UN human rights treaties has helped stimulate a unique and evolving discourse on Islam and human rights among MENA state representatives at meetings with UN human rights committees. The nature and content of these discourses among MENA and UN diplomats over time since ratification is the focus of the following section.

Islam and MENA RUDs to human rights treaties As UN human rights treaties proliferated on the international stage, most MENA countries have today ratified most UN human rights conventions. Although there are significant exceptions,25 there is an assumption that UN human rights law, in general, represents certain “universal” understandings of human rights – and the large number of countries ratifying these conventions serves as key evidence for this.26 Widespread ratification of the women’s (CEDAW), children’s (CRC), and torture (CAT) conventions in the Middle East reflect this idea that UN human rights law, despite important exceptions, is embraced across the world. Still, MENA commitments to these UN human rights treaties have often been met with great controversy from global human rights monitors and other UN states. A particular area of controversy has been MENA states’ widespread use of “reservations,” or statements of exception, issued upon a government’s ratification. Under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), states can enter statements upon treaty ratification clarifying commitment in “Reservations, Understandings and 167


Declarations” (RUDS) so long as the statement does not “defeat the object and purpose of a treaty prior to its entry into force.”27 The practice is common – and, although not all states submit RUDs, those that do submit a variety of types of statements, from sweeping and broad clarifying statements to detailed points about application of specific issues, including countries praised for relatively strong human rights practices. MENA states most commonly enter reservations upon commitment to UN human rights treaties, and these concerns oftentimes (but, importantly, not all the time) refer to possible potential incompatibility with Islam.28 These RUDs referring to Islamic exceptions are accepted by the UN, but have often been met with criticism from other UN states that claim these reservations lack specificity and are not in line with the general spirit of each convention. While the RUDs are clearly informed by various societal and political factors, perhaps shaped by Islamic elites and intellectuals contributing to interpretations of Islam in each country context, the RUD is submitted by the state as a statement about Islam without citing Islamic texts or Islamic thinkers that might inform these interpretations in each country context. The following section discusses the ratification process, exploring the ways in which Islam has been referenced in RUDs to the CAT, CRC, and CEDAW by various MENA governments. Following this section, the next explores the ensuing negotiations between MENA government diplomats at the relevant human rights committees, as part of the official international human rights review process, which have taken place primarily over the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s in the decades since ratification. The 1984 UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), initially introduced as a response to the widespread use of torture during the Cold War “dirty wars” in Latin America, has been widely ratified across MENA, with many states ratifying after some delay in the 1990s and 2000s. Notably, Islam was not a common concern voiced by MENA states upon ratification of the torture convention. Only one MENA state, Qatar, mentioned Islam in RUDs to the CAT in 2000 – reserving commitment to the CAT with the exception of “Any interpretation of the provisions of the Convention that is incompatible with the precepts of Islamic law and the Islamic religion.” Qatar did not at this time clarify where Islamic law and religion might be incompatible with UN law on torture. And, in 2011, Qatar withdrew the general reservation about Islam entirely. During this period Qatar instituted a number of so-called “liberal” political reforms, also doing the same with its reservations to the CRC. Qatar’s removal of its CAT reservation about Islam must be explained as part of a broader process in which Qatar has pursued a more “modern” image promoting its reputation as a “good global citizen” on the international stage.29 Other MENA states, including those with conservative interpretations of Sharia law in criminal laws, concerns in RUDs that were entirely unrelated to Islam, and most commonly in relation to the competence of the CAT committee. By contrast, Islam was raised as a central concern by many MENA states in RUDs submitted to the children’s (CRC) convention. The CRC is the most widely ratified convention in MENA (it has been universally accepted there) and is the most popular UN human rights treaty globally. Most MENA states mentioned possible conflict with Islam in RUDs to the CRC, some making sweeping statements about any conflict possible between the treaty and Islam, others focusing on specific issues – such as Islam’s position on adoption or the religion of children raised in an Islamic household. While Afghanistan entered a sweeping reservation in 1994 to the CRC to “all provisions of the convention that are incompatible with the laws of Islamic Shari’a and the local legislation in effect,” other MENA states offered more specific claims about 168


Table 9.1 MENA RUDs to CAT (* indicates withdrawn) Mention of Islam Article 20 (competence of CAT committee investigations) Article 30 (competence of the ICJ for referral) Other reservation No reservation

1 3

Qatar* Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait


Afghanistan, Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE

2 5

Turkey, Tunisia* Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon

Source: Author’s observation from the state party reservations published in the UN Treaty database for the CAT, “Chapter IV: Human Rights, 9. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Online. Available at mtdsg_no=iv-9&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 10 November 2018).

Table 9.2 MENA RUDs to CRC (* indicates withdrawn) Mention of Islam Article 14 (Freedom of conscience and religion) Article 21 (Adoption) No reservation

11 Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar* 7 Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, UAE, Qatar* 3 Jordan, Kuwait, UAE 3 Egypt, Bahrain, Libya

Source: Author’s observation from the state party reservations published in the UN Treaty database for the CRC, “Chapter IV: Human Rights, 11. Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Online. Available at https://treaties. (accessed 10 November 2018).

potential conflict with Islam. For example, Jordan in 1991 reserved specifically about Articles 14, 20, and 21 concerning adoption, claiming that these violated Islam, saying it took issue with clauses “which grant the child the right to freedom of choice of religion and concern the question of adoption, since they are at variance with the precepts of the tolerant Islamic Shariah.” Notably, although legal adoption was an uncommon practice in most MENA states, only three (Jordan, Kuwait, and the UAE) mentioned Islam as in conflict with CRC principles about adoption in their RUDs. Kuwait in 1990 expressed upon signature “[Kuwait expresses] reservations on all provisions of the Convention that are incompatible with the laws of Islamic Shari’a and the local statutes in effect.” But specified, upon ratification in 1991, “Article 21: the State of Kuwait, as it adheres to the provisions of the Islamic Shariah as the main source of legislation, strictly bans abandoning the Islamic religion and does not therefore approve adoption.” Similarly, the UAE reserved upon ratification in 1997, noting that Since, given its commitment to the principles of Islamic law, the United Arab Emirates does not permit the system of adoption, it has reservations with respect to this article and does not deem it necessary to be bound by its provisions. 169


Here, adoption stood as the only clear reflections of shared understandings of Islam that are viewed in the region as standing in conflict with the UN document. Other states offered similarly specific reservations but discussed entirely different topics, in several cases concerned instead with the concept of freedom of religion. For example, Oman in 1996 stated as its reservation “The Sultanate of Oman is not committed to the contents of Article (14) of the Convention, which gives the child the right to freedom of religion until he reaches the age of maturity.” That same year in 1996 Saudi Arabia entered a sweeping, non-specific reservation to the CRC similar to Afghanistan’s, saying, simply, “The Government of Saudi Arabia enters reservations with respect to all such articles as are in conflict with the provisions of Islamic Law.” These illustrations of MENA RUDs demonstrate furthermore important heterogeneity among statements about Islam entered to the CRC showing that Islam is by no means monolithic but shaped by political dimensions as to which states interpret and express their concerns about Islam in different ways. Gender has arisen as a key fault line in the politics between MENA states and the UN, as elsewhere in the world. MENA RUDs most frequently raise Islam in RUDs to the women’s convention (CEDAW). Notably, Iran has not ratified the CEDAW, with authorities citing incompatibility with national laws including Sharia law.30 More often, as was the case in the CRC debates, MENA states mentioned Islam in RUDs to the CEDAW but specified these concerns – many entered RUDs concerning Islamic positions on marriage, nationality, and freedom of movement, for example. Egypt was one of the first in the region to ratify CEDAW in 1981, and upon ratification entered a lengthy statement describing specifically how a CEDAW clause concerning equality in marriage violates interpretations of Sharia law, saying, Reservation to the text of Article 16 concerning the equality of men and women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations during the marriage and upon its dissolution, without prejudice to the Islamic Sharia’s provisions whereby women are accorded rights equivalent to those of their spouses so as to ensure a just balance between them. This is out of respect for the sacrosanct nature of the firm religious beliefs which govern marital relations in Egypt.31 Kuwait ratified the treaty a few years later in 1984 and also entered a specific reservation about Islam, stating, The Government of the State of Kuwait declares that it does not consider itself bound by the provision contained in Article 16(f) [concerning equal rights in marriage] inasmuch as it conflicts with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah, Islam being the official religion of the State. Tunisia, ratifying a year later, entered a reservation that did not specifically mention Islam by name. Its declaration, however, may be read to suggest a similar concern, as it stated, “The Tunisian Government declares that it shall not take any organizational or legislative decision in conformity with the requirements of this Convention where such a decision would conflict with the provisions of Chapter I of the Tunisian Constitution.” (Chapter 1 of the Tunisian Constitution at the time stated, “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its type of government is the Republic.”) 170


Arab Gulf states, Kuwait (ratified in 1992), Bahrain (ratified in 2002), and UAE (ratified in 2004) all entered more specific reservations to CEDAW than Saudi Arabia with mentioning Article 16 (concerning equal rights in marriage), but, in each case, the specific wording differed. Kuwait’s reservation referenced Article 16 (f) and stated: The Government of the State of Kuwait declares that it does not consider itself bound by the provision contained in Article 16(f) inasmuch as it conflicts with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah, Islam being the official religion of the State. Bahrain reserved regarding Sharia both to Article 2 and 16, promising to comply only “within the bounds” of Sharia, saying, The Kingdom of Bahrain makes reservations with respect to the following provisions of the Convention: Article 2, in order to ensure its implementation within the bounds of the provisions of the Islamic Shariah … Article 16, in so far as it is incompatible with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah. The UAE reserved more generally to Article 16 concerning marriage, saying, “Article 16 The United Arab Emirates will abide by the provisions of this article insofar as they are not in conflict with the principles of the Shariah.” Saudi Arabia, a state that was relatively late to accede to the women’s convention, reserved in 2000 “in case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention.” This statement clearly suggests that the regime sees Islam as potentially incompatible with UN law, without going further to specify any areas that might be of particular concern. When considered together, MENA RUDs to the CAT, CRC, and CEDAW offer, on the one hand, evidence that Islam is a concern often voiced in the region in relation to human rights treaties – most commonly to the CRC and the CEDAW and rarely (although in one case, later removed) in the case of the CAT. Notably, the states of the

Table 9.3 MENA RUDs to CEDAW (* indicates withdrawn) Mention of Islam

11 Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar, UAE Article 9 (concerning equal right to 7 Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi nationality) Arabia Article 15 (concerning freedom of 7 Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Syria, UAE, Turkey* movement/residence) Article 16 (concerning equal rights 12 Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, in marriage) Oman, Qatar, Syria, UAE, Turkey* Article 29 (concerning referral to 9 Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the ICJ) Qatar, Turkey* Source: Author’s observation from the state party reservations published in the UN Treaty database for the CEDAW, “Chapter IV: Human Rights, 8. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” Online. Available at 4&lang=en (accessed 10 November 2018).



Arab Gulf with conservative interpretations of Sharia law (these include Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia) in particular most often cite Islam in their RUDs. However, the debates in the region show considerable diversity in the ways in which Islam is raised upon initial ratification. Where Saudi Arabia offers vague, sweeping statements about Islam upon ratification, the UAE and Kuwait more often enter specific statements detailing with more practical detail concerning potential incompatibility, and these points of detail are not identical among these Arab Gulf states that have ratified the same convention. There is a need to better understand the motivations behind these RUDs as they vary between MENA regimes. The particular substance of the RUDs submitted is perhaps the result of the “vagaries of domestic politics” (as Goldsmith and Posner have suggested) – however, they indicate important trends, which are explored in the section that follows on resulting UN–MENA state dialogues.32 In interviews with UN human rights committees and human rights activists in the Arab Gulf, respondents have suggested that the regimes craft their RUDs not only for the UN and international audiences, but also for a domestic audience to signify that they are “serious” about Islam and eager to push back against the UN. These motivations behind certain regimes’ arguments made in RUDs, as well as behind lifting the reservations, are key areas for future research.

MENA diplomatic dialogues with UN human rights treaty committees In the wake of RUDs, MENA state representatives, who are a set of nominated government officials, are obliged to participate in regular reporting dialogues with the international convention committees, established UN bodies with official oversight and regular review procedures over state parties to treaties. These dialogues have helped capture a vast catalogue of arguments about Islam and human rights, which can be analyzed in the records of these diplomatic dialogues taking place across the years since ratification. MENA states, like all states, are required to submit regular reports to the UN committee and participate in summary meetings. The representatives participating in these meetings change year to year, and are often professional civil servants who represent their governments in UN human rights meetings. As was the case with initial RUDs, these statements are publicly recorded, and are diverse in their nature and content although they, too, reflect certain patterns allowing readers of these dialogue reports to glean an understanding of the nature of debates on human rights in the region. Islam, MENA, and the CAT committee proceedings Even though Islam was not commonly referenced in MENA RUDs to the torture (CAT) convention, resulting dialogues between the UN CAT committee and participating MENA state party representatives brought the topic to the fore in relation to Islamic religious hadd punishments (offenses said to violate divine authority and prescribed specific punishments in the Quran). For example, although Saudi Arabia did not mention Islam in its RUDs submitted to the CAT, discussions between Saudi diplomats and the CAT committee after ratification quickly turned to the topic of Islamic hadd punishments, the Saudi regime claiming that such practices were not 172


incompatible with the convention and, importantly, permitted under Islam. For example, the committee pressed Saudi Arabia about certain punishments including flogging and amputation in a 2002 meeting following Saudi Arabia’s ratification of the CAT. Saudi Arabia quickly defended these practices not necessarily as constituting “torture” but crucially as sanctioned under Islam, saying, [Mr. Al-Hogail] said that Saudi Arabia was an Islamic State that applied the dictates of the Holy Koran. The Koran set out specific sanctions such as amputation, flogging (whipping) and stoning for certain crimes. Those sanctions could neither be abrogated, nor amended since they emanated from God … The Saudi Arabian Code of Criminal Procedure prohibited the infliction of any punishment other than that prescribed by the Shariah or the law. Here Saudi interaction with the CAT provided a particular platform for the Saudi regime to make public statements about Saudi interpretations of Islam and its centrality in guiding certain areas of criminal punishment in the Kingdom. In response to tense interactions between Saudi delegates and CAT in 2001 and 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdu’l Aziz al-Sheikh made a statement criticizing the UN committee in the newspaper Daily Okaz, saying UN claims that Saudi Arabia was in violation of the international accord were based on “lies, jealousy, and ignorance of Islamic Law.”33 However, after this initial Saudi affirmation of the “right” to flog under Islamic Law and the failure of the CAT committee to express sensitivity to such religious practices, there was a measurable change over a decade later in 2015 CAT–Saudi Arabia meetings. Saudi Arabian diplomats stepped back from defending flogging and, instead, said such practices were not commonly “condoned” by the government. In a 2015 CAT meeting, the Saudi Arabian representative responded to an inquiry about the flogging of activists and bloggers including the 2013 flogging of prominent Saudi human rights blogger Raif Badawi: Mr. Al-Shahrani (Saudi Arabia) said that the report referred to by Ms. Belmir was incorrect. The sentence had not yet been carried out. Committee members would do well to rely on credible sources of information rather than on what appeared to be little other than baseless slander … International instruments to which Saudi Arabia was a party had the force of law in the country. The provisions of those instruments could therefore be invoked in domestic proceedings. As a rule, Saudi law did not condone flogging.34 The final sentence in Mr. Al-Shahrani’s statement that “Saudi law did not condone flogging” is a noticeable step-change occurring over the decade from previous statements from Saudi representatives defending flogging as allowable (and indeed, sometimes even necessary) under Islam. This change over time is indicative of a degree of “norm diffusion” indicating some change over time stimulated, among other factors, by these kinds of dialogues. Like Saudi Arabia’s representations, the Qatari delegation also at first defended practices such as stoning and amputation under religious claims. They further justified the use of such tactics as by claiming that these practices were few in number. After ratifying the CAT in 2000, Qatar’s initial report assured the committee of legal protections against torture in the 173


Kingdom under Sharia law, writing, “The Islamic sharia totally prohibits acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, since such acts are an affront to human dignity, which the religion enjoins us to respect and protect.”35 Qatari delegates responded to further concern voiced by the CAT committee by claiming such practices were being reformed, and also that the use of certain Sharia laws for punishment of Muslims’ crimes were defensible under international legal standards because they were rarely practiced: A bill had been drawn up to abolish the penalties of flogging and stoning. Article 1 of the Penal Code stipulated that Islamic sharia applied to the crimes of theft, banditry, adultery, apostasy and alcohol consumption, when the perpetrators or victims were Muslims. Under the same article, stoning and amputation concerned only a very small number of offences and were hardly ever put into practice.36 A similar process is visible in Kuwait, with growing convergence in the vocabulary and concepts used with UN human rights concepts invoked to address Islam and punishment as CAT meetings progress. After ratifying the CAT in 1994, Kuwaiti representatives defended the right to maintain laws that allow for capital punishment under Islam; however, in these defenses the practices were framed in their first CAT review meeting in 2011 as necessarily legal under Kuwait’s commitment to Islam, but extreme and rare, saying, Mr. Razzooqi (Kuwait), It was difficult to abolish capital punishment because it formed part of the Islamic Sharia. However, the conditions to be met for its imposition were so exacting that it was scarcely ever imposed. Nobody had been executed for more than four or five years. He had never heard of any case in which an accused had been sentenced to amputation of his or her hands or feet. Such sentences did not exist in Kuwait.37 Kuwaiti delegates in CAT meetings also responded to criticisms of the committee members by invoking the concept of judicial independence in an effort to appear modern and in conformity with other UN states. Replying to a list of issues raised by the CAT committee in 2015 about unfair trials, Kuwaiti delegates responded by defending Kuwaiti law with reference to these modern concepts, saying, Within the context of the principle of the separation of powers, the constitutional provision governing the relationship between the country’s Amir and the judicial power is worded differently from that governing his relationship with the executive and legislative powers. Hence, under Articles 51 and 52 of the Constitution, the legislative and executive powers are vested in the Amir, the Council of Ministers, ministers and the National Assembly (Parliament) whereas, under Article 53, the judicial power is vested in the courts, which exercise it in the name of the Amir within the limits prescribed in the Constitution. The work of judges is periodically appraised in order to ensure the proper administration of justice and completion of cases. Such appraisals are carried out by the Justice Inspectorate, which comprises qualified and experienced judges.38 174


Here, the practices of Islamic punishments are still defended as a religious duty, but the justifications from Kuwait’s representatives shifted as the meetings progressed in 2015 to also include justification beyond pure religious claims, invoking concepts of judicial independence and judicial fairness. Overall MENA interaction with the CAT committee evidences an evolving dialogue about Islam and punishment. Even where Islam was not a focus of initial RUDs, Islam has become prominent in ongoing engagement with the UN. In this way, ratification has captured the ways in which MENA countries have justified certain practices over time, with a continual desire to portray Islam as against “torture” and generally inline with UN standards by complying with a range of UN concepts about rights and fairness in justice. Islam, MENA, and the CEDAW committee proceedings Mentions of Islam were more commonplace in MENA RUDs to the women’s CEDAW convention, as noted earlier. Islam also subsequently was central in CEDAW committee dialogues with MENA states, but went far beyond the focus on certain areas contained in the RUDs (of marriage and nationality, for example) to discussions of a range of topics from the weight of women’s legal testimony to civil and political rights of women. Even in cases where MENA states entered similar RUDs, subsequent committee dialogues about Islam and women’s rights varied widely between MENA states. For example, where statements from Saudi delegations focused heavily during CEDAW committee proceedings on Islamic exceptions to compatibility with international standards based on Sharia law, statements from Tunisian and Jordanian delegations focused heavily on Islam’s harmonious place with international women’s rights standards. When pressed by CEDAW committee members on Islamic incompatibility with Tunisia’s commitment to the CEDAW, delegates suggested that the two were indeed fully compatible, reflecting that such dialogues were possibly helping stimulate, or, at a minimum reflecting, a new approach to incorporating “women’s rights” into a distinctly Tunisian context. The delegates stated, Islam is unfairly accused of thwarting progress, but is in fact the quintessential religion of progress … In Tunisia’s new era, the main thrust of its modernist philosophy lies in its determination to bring women’s status into harmony with a state of law, of democratic freedoms and human rights.39 Not only did dialogue focus on compatibility between Islam and international human rights, it also, by extension, further bolstered the claim that UN conceptions of women’s rights (and other concepts like “modernity” and “progress”) were concepts Tunisia itself was spearheading. Engagement with the treaties, whether prompting, or reflecting, this sense of shared purpose, was, at the minimum, acknowledging compatibility. Cementing this sense of “change” in a “new era” of human rights thinking and leadership in defense of “women’s rights,” Tunisia made the decision in 2014 to withdraw its RUDs on Islamic concerns about women’s role in marriage, after elections in that year in Tunisia brought a plurality in parliament won by Nidaa Tounnes, a wide-ranging secular political party. 175


Jordan’s interactions with the CEDAW committee similarly reflect a desire to portray Islam as in accordance with international women’s rights standards. In a 2001 initial meeting with the CEDAW committee, Jordan submitted assurances not only that Jordanian law generally upheld international standards on women’s rights about the equality of men and women under the law, but also assured that the country was engaging in reform efforts, saying, In addition to a number of amendments to other laws concerning pension rights for women, nationality, health insurance and a wife’s separate financial identity, the Government was currently studying a new draft Civil Status Code that underscored the rights Islam granted to women.40 In reply to criticisms from the CEDAW committee regarding lack of equality in marriage law, as Jordanian law for example gives men but not women an absolute right to divorce at will, Jordanian representatives highlighted the fact that women enjoy “equality” in the law, and can specify conditions in marriage contracts (a right not commonly used but progressive in the sense that it can favor a woman who wishes to ensure her financial and personal well-being before entering marriage with certain legal protections, and a process that is not available in all other Muslim majority countries).41 Jordanian representatives in 2001 told the CEDAW committee, Jordanian women enjoyed full equality with men under the law in all civil matters, including contracts, property management and commercial transactions; any impediments were attributable to social mores. In the area of family life, Jordan subscribed to the principles of the Islamic Shariah. Although women had the right to specify their own conditions in marriage contracts, few did so. Nongovernmental organizations had launched legal literacy campaigns to educate women about their entitlements.42 The language and concepts used by Jordanian diplomats in these statements, while not addressing an intention necessarily to remove gender discriminatory laws around divorce, nonetheless reflect the overall effort to describe Islam as favoring gender “equality” and holding a degree of flexibility and adaptability in favor of women’s rights. The effort is to advertise Jordanian law as in support of the protection of women under the law, which however leaves open to further criticism the question why, if the government favored the principle of equality so strongly, it would not amend unequal rights between males and females in divorce. An important feature of UN human rights treaty ratification includes “shadow reporting” where local individuals and organizations are welcomed to submit reports to the UN human rights committees. A group of anonymous Saudi women submitted a shadow report to the CEDAW committee in 2007 contesting the government’s report to the committee, saying, The reservations of SA on the CEDAW are mainly about “all what controvert Islamic law,” i.e. that SA will follow just what conforms to Islamic laws. This concept is very obscure and inaccurate, which was, thankfully, commented on by the CEDAW committee to the government. It is important to note that Islam 176


incorporates many schools of thought that adopt different stands according to their interpretation of the sacred text in regard to women and other social issues.43 Here Saudi Arabia’s ratification of CEDAW has prompted local voices to contribute to intra-cultural dialogues at the UN women’s rights committee, even if anonymously, resulting in further contestation of the topic of Islam and women’s rights communicated and catalogued at the UN over time. CEDAW ratification has helped stimulate and frame diplomatic dialogue between MENA states and UN committee members concerning conceptions of gender in Islam. Resulting dialogues helped frame issues concerning marriage and equality. In this way ratification has provoked a number of statements from government representatives at the UN, however cosmetic, concerning a commitment to gender equality in law in each country. And “shadow reports” continue to push the matter further. Islam, MENA, and the CRC committee proceedings MENA interactions with the CRC committee also capture an important and evolving dialogue about Islam and human rights. In some meetings, the topic of Islam related to children’s rights was not discussed. For example, at Oman’s meeting with the CRC committee in November 2006, the topic of Islam or Sharia law was not mentioned at all, despite Oman not advancing policies in line with the CRC’s freedom of religion for children clause. In the case of the UAE, although the similar incompatibility of Emirati law with the CRC principle of freedom of religion was not raised at all in the UAE’s RUDs to the CRC, the topic of the freedom of children’s religion and belief was central in meetings with the UAE, in a November 2006 meeting that same month, where the UAE expressly claimed that the CRC principles of children’s rights in this area conflict with Sharia law, saying, The State expressed a reservation to Article 14 of the Convention concerning freedom of thought and religion, because the article conflicts with the principles of the Islamic sharia. Freedom to profess a religion and to worship is available to all. No child in the United Arab Emirates is subject to any discrimination because of the child’s religion or creed.44 In the same report, UAE officials defended reservations concerning adoption, claiming that for Islamic reasons of maintaining names solely based on blood-line, adoption could not take place in the Kingdom. However, this stance was later clarified in the document alongside more progressive ideas about the rights of the children with “unknown parentage” to be protected and assisted by the State. The State expressed a reservation to Article 21 on the right to adopt a child. Islam, which is the official religion and main source of legislation of the United Arab Emirates, does not permit the adoption method. However, this does not deny the rights of children of unknown lineage or parentage. The State provides for an appropriate role for the care and upbringing of such children and acts to provide all their needs. It has also established rules for 177


alternative families. Children of unknown parentage obtain social assistance under the Social Security Act.45 The UAE’s statements here to the CRC reflect a common dual character of UN human rights committee dialogue with MENA states, where oftentimes Islam is raised in a defensive way pushing back against the UN’s imposition of values upon local interpretations of religious law and custom, all the while expressing that Islam is fully compatible with UN ideals of “freedom,” “rights,” and “non-discrimination.” Saudi Arabia’s dialogues with the CRC committee also focused substantially on Islam’s compatibility with CRC provisions. Saudi Arabia’s 2014 report specifically attributes special protection for children to the country’s system of Islamic law, claiming that Islamic legal principles actively contribute to “modern” human rights ideas such as the protection and encouragement of child development, saying, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has derived its regulations concerning child welfare from these divinely revealed teachings of Islam which are in harmony with, and even surpass, the provisions of the Convention.”46 Moroccan dialogues with the CAT committee illustrate a similar effort to demonstrate in UN meetings Islam’s special role in protecting the rights of children. In initial 1996 meetings, the Moroccan representative claimed this special protection dates back 1,400 years in its history as an Islamic country: Mr. Moslih (Morocco) said that children’s rights had been protected in Morocco well before the adoption of the Convention in 1989. Morocco had been an Islamic country for the past 1,400 years and, during that time, a wide range of children’s rights had been recognized and protected under the Koran, Shariya law and various subsequent writings on those and other texts. He himself was engaged in preparing a detailed review of the various texts covering the rights of the child under Moroccan law, which would be made available to the Committee in due course.47 Beyond these efforts to claim compatibility (if not superiority) of Islamic law in protecting children under CRC definitions of children’s rights, the key area of contestation in many MENA–CRC dialogues concerned the rights of freedom of religion. Like a number of MENA countries, Moroccan representatives claimed that Muslim apostasy laws did not violate the CRC, saying, In response to Mr. Hammarberg’s question on Article 14 of the convention, he said that the Moroccan Constitution stipulated that the religion of the State was Islam, but guaranteed freedom of religion to all citizens without reserve. Both Christians and Jews were free to practise their religion in their own places of worship throughout the country and did in fact do so.48 And, seven years later in 2003 Morocco’s meetings with the CRC committee, another Moroccan representative reiterated this same stance, suggesting that Moroccan children who left Islam were not guaranteed a right to freedom of religion. However, the same statements seemed to contradict this point when they appealed to the principle of “freedom of expression,” suggesting that the government might be further pressed to explain this inconsistency in the rights of Muslim children. 178


Mr. Mediani (Morocco) said that Morocco’s reservation to Article 14 of the Convention did not affect the right of followers of other religions to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, a right that was guaranteed by the Constitution, even though the official religion of Morocco was Islam. A number of measures had been taken to enhance the right to freedom of expression. For example, a new law had been adopted to facilitate the work of journalists. Another law had been adopted to allow the establishment of associations serving a public interest.49 These excerpts demonstrate a growing incorporation of human rights language contained in the CRC by MENA states articulating an Islamic perspective. Although there remain areas of dispute, for example, related to freedom of religion and the practice of adoption, the language of rights invoked by MENA states and UN representatives is becoming increasingly similar.

Conclusions: Islam and UN human rights treaty ratification in MENA – progress and limitations While Islam is an important topic and indeed often central to MENA interactions with many UN human rights conventions and their relevant committees, it is by no means a clear area of so-called “conflict” related to engagement with these UN instruments that can be broadly understood and accounted for in the same way regionally. Ratification and ensuing negotiations with international convention committees alternate between universalism and relativism. Even in such cases as the CEDAW where concerns about compatibility with Islam have been central to MENA engagement with the women’s convention, the ways in which these concerns have been communicated over time and in each country context have varied widely. In this way, it is important for international human rights literature to look beyond so-called issues of compatibility with Islam across the region as a whole in a broad sense and to consider how each individual country in MENA engages with the UN instruments individually and over time. Engagement is not simply reduced to the religiophilosophical dimensions; there are broader legal, political, and social issues at play. Still, the patterns are clear that most MENA states have made some effort to assert a claim about Islamic exceptions to UN human rights conceptions in their ratification of these UN human rights instruments, all while insisting that any conflict is minor. The burden of justifying practices and explaining religion resulting from voluntary engagement with these UN human rights treaty instruments stemming from ratification across the region has created a unique space in which language and concepts about Islam and human rights are being negotiated. As a result, MENA engagement with UN human rights conventions has revealed a certain dynamism and evolution in the way these ideas have been communicated by governments that is worthy of further study and deeper understanding, particularly by those working to make international human rights efforts more effective. In a discussion with the author, one prominent human rights activist from the UAE described the use of Islam as an exception to CEDAW commitments as “a pretext” – attempting to appeal to citizens to suggest the government cares about Islam, while implying that organizations like the UN were “against Islam.”50 In his opinion, it is not important how Islam is brought up, simply that it is brought up in the context of the UN meetings. The ways in which government arguments about Islam are used as a political tool in this international context should continue to be studied and critiqued. 179


International relations scholar Jack Donnelly has argued that a broad global consensus has been achieved today regarding human rights. “In the contemporary world differences with respect to human rights largely concern matters of detail rather than basic norms,” he writes.51 Therefore, he claims, the process of argumentation can be much more important than the substance. “Anything that even hints of imposing Western values,” Donnelly writes, “is likely to be met with understandable suspicion, even resistance. How arguments of universalism and arguments of relativism are advanced may sometimes be as important as the substance of those arguments.”52 The cases of MENA ratification of the CAT, CEDAW, and CRC offer evidence for part of Donnelly’s claims in that they reveal large areas of consensus (at least in rhetoric) over concepts of “equality” and “non-discrimination” exemplified by ratification. Still, key areas of contention remain, particularly surrounding ideas about gender equality in marriage. The way arguments are crafted in dialogues and reporting proceedings (about flexibility in Islam, for example) can be more revealing than the substance of the arguments put forward at the UN (such as the substance of RUDs). Statements from MENA states to the human rights committees over time support Donnelly’s argument about a degree of consensus about human rights in the broadest sense, in terms of the language and concepts used, while demonstrating that human rights terminology can still be an empty shell for deeper debate over disagreements. The focus on compliance in the existing scholarship leads us to overlook the dynamics of engagement playing out in cases like MENA, where engagement is high but policy progress measured in liberal human rights reforms has been minimal. This fails to account for the impact on discourse on Islam and human rights that is resulting from ratification. This impact on dialogue is a form of norm diffusion as a nascent “first step” in a complex process. Discourse is simply discourse – it does not directly change law and practices. The growing convergence in the use of UN concepts in the context of Islamic understandings of human rights in MENA could have negative consequences, as states become more brazen in making human rights promises that are not fulfilled. However, law and practices are less likely to liberalize without a liberal discourse framing understandings of human rights more closely alongside international human rights vocabulary and concepts. As more and more states demonstrate they are willing – if not compelled – to dance to a diplomatic tune using a vocabulary of human rights, there is a rich record emerging in which statements about the harmony between Islam and UN human rights concepts are developing. If scholars and policymakers develop a deeper understanding of the ways that UN human rights treaty ratification can move discourses about human rights in these cases, a clearer understanding of UN human rights treaties will be achieved, with the possibility that international law will become more realistic and effective.

Notes 1 Susan Muaddi Darraj, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010, p. 83. 2 Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York: Random House, 2001, p. 8. 3 Notably, the United States has only ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1998 and has not ratified the children’s (CRC) or women’s (CEDAW) conventions. 4 See, for example, critiques in Anthony D’Amato, “Is International Law Really Law?” Northwestern School of Law: Faculty Working Papers, 2010, Online. Available at http://anthonydamato.




6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 (accessed 4 September 2017). For critiques of effectiveness across categories of international law as compared with domestic law see Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner, The Limits of International Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. See this study of human rights treaty compliance: Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Kiyoteru Tsutsui, and John W. Meyer, “Repressive States and Human Rights Treaties: International Human Rights Law and the Politics of Legitimation,” International Sociology, 2008, vol. 23, 115. “Formal agreements by national governments intended to improve human rights practices have not only done little to achieve the goal, but also seem to have sometimes resulted in worse practices.” Hafner-Burton et al., “Repressive States,” 116. Also, Goldsmith and Posner, The Limits of International Law. As argued by Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 7. “Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa,” Freedom House. Online. Available at (accessed 2 September 2017). A gender gap of 0 percent indicates gender equality. “Global Gender Gap Report 2015,” World Economic Forum. Available at (accessed 31 August 2017). See, for example, R. Javaid, “Islam and Human Rights: Is Compatibility Achievable between the Sharia and Human Rights Law?” 2 January 2014. Online. Available at (accessed 15 December 2018). 40 BNARS BNB 1392, Seretse, “Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations,” September 1969. 41 TNA FCO 45/437, Seretse, speech to African American Chamber of Commerce, 25 September 1969. 42 US Congress, Senate, Senator Edward Brooke, 91st Congress, 1st Session, 8 October 1969, Congressional Record, vol. 115, part 21, pp. 29133–6. 43 Rhodes House Library, Oxford University, MMS Afr. s. 1681, Richard Rolfe, “Developing Mineral-based Wealth,” Financial Times, 10 August 1971. 44 United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973–9 Electronic Telegrams, 1977STATE142614, Department of State to Embassy Gaborone, 20 June 1977; NARA, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973–9 Electronic Telegrams, 1978GABORO02964, Embassy Gaborone to Department of State, 28 September 1978. 45 NARA, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973–9 Electronic Telegrams, 1979STATE235933, Department of State to Embassy Addis Ababa, 7 September 1979. 46 J. Regan Kerney, “Texas-size Country in Southern Africa enjoys Tranquility and True Democracy: Letter from Botswana,” Washington Post, 23 December 1977, A18. By the mid-1970s, the US Congress, with support from nongovernmental organizations, worked to pass legislation to link America’s material and military aid with improvements in the human rights records of recipient states. See Sarah B. Snyder, From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2018, pp. 148–67. 47 These figures are in constant dollars. See US Agency for International Development, “U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants: Obligations and Loan Authorizations,” data from 1 July 1945 to 30 September 2014. Online. Available at (accessed 15 December 2018). 48 BNARS 5617, Botswana Ministry of Works and Communications, “Botswana-Zambia Road Project,” final report, July 1978. 49 James Kirby, “‘Our Bantustans are Better than Yours’: Botswana, the United States, and Human Rights Idealism in the 1970s,” International History Review, 2017, vol. 39, 860–84. 50 Jensen, Making of International Human Rights, p. 85. 51 TNA FCO 45/437, Seretse, speech to African American Chamber of Commerce, 25 September 1969. 52 TNA DO 216/50, Quett Masire, A. S. Mohale, and Makhosini Dlamini, “Joint Memorandum by the Leaders of the Elected Governments of Bechuanaland, Basotoland [sic] and Swaziland to the heads of African states in Accra,” 25 October 1965.



53 Seretse, “Botswana’s Policy of Non-alignment,” 8–10 September 1970 in Non-Aligned Conference: Lusaka, 1970, Gaborone: Botswana Information Services, 1970, pp. 2–3. 54 TNA FCO 45/1698, Seretse, address to National Assembly, 24 November 1975; Seretse, “Speech Addressing the Sixteenth Annual Conference of the Botswana Democratic Party at Mochudi,” 9 April 1977 in Carter and Morgan, From the Frontline, pp. 257–8; BNARS BNB 3899, Seretse, acceptance speech at the Nansen Award ceremony in Geneva, 22 May 1978; Richard Dale, Botswana’s Search for Autonomy in Southern Africa, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995, pp. 44–5. 55 TNA FCO 45/1096, David Anderson to Peter Foster, 25 April 1972. 56 TNA FCO 45/439, Seretse, “Developing Democracy in Southern Africa,” address at the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre, 11 November 1970. 57 Julius Nyerere, Freedom and Unity, London: Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 313. 58 TNA FCO 45/111, Seretse, address to National Assembly, 9 December 1968; TNA FCO 45/ 816, Seretse, “A Decade of Achievement – A Decade of Challenge,” address to Botswana Democratic Party conference, 10 April 1971. 59 TNA FCO 45/1270, Seretse, address to Democratic Party conference, 21 April 1973. 60 Seretse, address to Council on Foreign Relations in New York, “The Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa and American Perceptions,” 8 June 1976 in Speeches by His Excellency the President, Sir Seretse Khama, on the Occasion of His Visits to India, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, China and North Korea, Gaborone: Government Printer, 1976, p. 25. 61 Bechuanaland Democratic Party, Laying the Foundation of Nationhood: Quotations from the Speeches of Sir Seretse Khama, Gaborone: Bechuanaland Democratic Party, 1982, p. 26. 62 Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, David Benjamin Bolen Papers, Box 4, Folder 4, Embassy Gaborone to Department of State, 1 August 1975. 63 TNA FCO 45/1272, Nzo Ekangaki, speech at Gaborone agricultural and trade fair, 13 July 1973. 64 TNA FCO 45/1499, Seretse, interview with Radio Botswana and Botswana Daily News, 21 June 1974. 65 NARA, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973–9 Electronic Telegrams, 1977 USUNN00116, US Mission USUN to Department of State, 15 January 1977; BNARS MICRO 588, United Nations Security Council, “Assistance to Botswana,” March 1977.


PART III THE FORMATIVE UN ERA C. Socialist and capitalist versions of human rights


As World War II ended, the Allied governments recommitted their allegiance to the International Labour Organization (ILO) – a specialized agency founded a quarter century earlier along with the League of Nations – that was responsible for formulating global standards for the world of work. Through the “Declaration of Philadelphia,” representatives of the Allies assembled in that city asserted, “All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.” They announced that “labor is not a commodity.”1 Thus, they upheld the ILO’s interwar regulations for minimum wages, the eight-hour day, social security, collective bargaining, and child welfare. Women, like men, they affirmed, deserved basic economic and social rights – but women also required the unique right to maternity protection. This dual pledge – treating women in industry like all other workers, yet regarding them as needing special provisions to accommodate childbearing – persisted into the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. This essay examines the postwar and Cold War period, the late 1940s to the mid 1970s, which saw both transformations in the nature of women’s work and the expansion of human rights discourse. Despite growing acceptance of formal equality, the ILO came up against women’s assumed responsibility for homes and families. The ILO’s legacy for human rights, expressed in the right to decent work, reflected a basic contradiction: women were equal to men except when they were not. Including women in formal expressions of economic rights ran up against social and cultural definitions of gender difference. Women were mothers or potential mothers; they were the ones who left factories, fields, and offices for a second shift, the reproductive labors of housework and care work. Equal treatment on the job, including equal pay, non-discrimination, safe working conditions, and freedom to join a union, did nothing to relieve unequal burdens of what the ILO came to call “family responsibilities.” Thus neither protection nor equality fully addressed the barriers to women’s human rights. Yet the daily unwaged labor of sustaining people continued to subsidize wage work more broadly as it interfered with women’s right to earn. Women stretched inadequate wages to cover family needs, allowing employers to pay less to maintain their workforce.2 ILO instruments, whether focused on equality or on special treatment, encouraged its member countries to deploy women’s labor as needed – in the labor force or in the 259


family. It wasn’t that women-specific protections were wrong or counter to human rights, especially as linked with human dignity. Given most national legal instruments, labor feminists felt that they would help relieve class oppression until organized workers gained power in order to cover men under equivalent protections (against dangerous work or long hours, for example). It was that in championing wage labor in the formal sector, the ILO overlooked care as work and thus undermined conditions in the paid as well as unpaid care-work economy, where women dominated. In this regard, it reflected hegemonic understandings of trade unionists, governments, and even most feminists that reproductive labor was not work. Universalizing the double day of women further obscured the burdens faced by women in the global South, especially subsistence producers. The ideal of “freedom from fear and want,” as enshrined in several human rights instruments, remained all the more difficult to obtain. Not only did their informal sector and rural household labors sustain families and communities, but they also made cheap goods and raised future migrant workers, both of which lowered costs for industrialized areas. Geopolitical conflicts between the imperial North and decolonizing South and between state socialist and market economies helped to shape the possibility for economic rights regardless of sex, even as they reflected inequalities between men and women and between women whose “work and family” circumstances varied by class, region, and other demographic and social factors. The ILO offers a unique arena for the study of human rights. It is the central deliberative body for generating worldwide labor standards as a means to secure human dignity. It has done so through research that generates knowledge about employment and working conditions, assisting governments with implementing labor law, and, most notably, setting treaty-like conventions and non-binding recommendations. But not all conventions pertained to all people or peoples; from the start, some measures applied to particular groups, defined by gender, geography, or occupation. These workers appeared to be subject to unique hazards, sometimes from the job, other times from their social or cultural position. For the ILO, women comprised such a group. The reader will find an overview in the first section of the essay. The second section reinterprets ILO historiography through a gendered lens and introduces three approaches to labor standards as human rights: what we call the hidden gender paradigm, the equal treatment paradigm, and the special treatment paradigm. The third section discusses the hidden gender paradigm in universal instruments that have differential gender impacts. Examples of this paradigm include conventions promulgated as counterweights to Communism, such as “Freedom of Association,” “Right to Organize,” and “Abolition of Forced Labor.” Some general conventions include distinct measures for women, such as “Plantations” and “Social Security.” By discussing such measures in this section we highlight the multiple contours of hidden gender instruments. The fourth section takes up general conventions that directly codified the equal treatment of women and men. These included the conventions on “Equal Remuneration” and “Discrimination.” It is important to note that the ILO’s annual assembly, the International Labour Conference (ILC), passed both kinds of instruments simultaneously, that is, ones with differential gender impacts or distinct measures for women, and ones mandating equal treatment. The fifth section of the essay turns to measures intended to achieve equality through special treatment for women workers, which also continued during these years. Examples include the revision of an interwar convention on “Maternity Protection,” a recommendation on “Women with Family Responsibilities,” and measures for women 260


as mothers in “developing countries.” By focusing on specific conventions and recommendations, we introduce readers to the breadth of ILO concerns. The final section highlights the human rights legacy of the ILO in the years leading up to the first United Nations (UN) International Conference on Women, in 1975. In preparing for this landmark meeting, the ILO affirmed its unique place as the international arena where women’s rights, labor rights, and human rights came together to define the world of work. Precisely because the ILO reflected the positions of member countries and strove for consensus, it would take decades for the vision of economic rights as human rights to account for women’s family labor.

Overview Knowing the structure of the ILO is imperative to understanding the passage of its conventions. Among international agencies, the Geneva-based ILO has a unique tripartite organization: workers, employers, and governments are formally represented in the governing body, all committees, and country delegations to the annual ILC. Representatives vote on various conventions, recommendations, and declarations annually at the ILC. The International Labour Office (the Office), staffed by global civil servants, runs the dayto-day activities of the organization, and is overseen by the elected director-general. The Office admits civil society organizations, such as international union federations, human rights groups, and international feminist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to the ILC as observers with limited participation rights. Even though the ILO constitution recommended women’s presence as advisors to national delegations and to committees for industrial sectors like textiles whenever questions involving women as workers were on the agenda, a special place in the ILO’s structure for women’s issues was an afterthought. The status of a unit devoted to women workers has varied within the Office over the past century, ranging from a special assistant to the director-general to a distinct bureau. Women workers became more central to ILO policymaking as women’s labor force participation rose during the last half of the twentieth century and the ILO itself turned to the problem of the informal economy in the global South. It is important to note that the ILO has not necessarily been a feminist institution. The special treatment paradigm perpetuated unequal power relations among women and between men and women in the global North and South. Already during the interwar years (1919–39), when European colonial powers and social democratic trade unions dominated the ILO, the desire to protect motherhood led the ILO to reaffirm even older women-specific labor standards that had prohibited night work and exposure to hazardous substances. Many feminists in the interwar period condemned the ILO for upholding standards that they judged would backfire against women’s equality; they argued that employers would discriminate against women if they had to abide by hour and safety restrictions for women that made women more costly to hire than men. Other feminists maintained that the achievement of equality for wage-earning women required measures targeted at women. Moreover, the ILO formulated distinct rules for workers in “nonmetropolitan,” i.e. colonial, territories that offered only limited protection to women relative to men. The rest of this essay concerns the gradual, difficult, and partial departure from the special treatment paradigm of the interwar era. At mid-century, when the globally hegemonic United States had the most influence at the ILO, women staff, delegates, and advisors debated the optimum balance between 261


special protection and equal treatment. The ILO began to edge away from protective labor legislation for women and toward promoting anti-discrimination and equal treatment with men, but it took decades to revise conventions and other instruments that targeted women as fundamentally different from men. Over the same years, treatment for the global South gradually shifted from colonial exceptionalism (that is, excepting colonial subjects from labor protections formulated for non-colonized peoples) to the embrace of world economic development – which, it must be noted, has avoided upending Western capitalist dominance. The development of labor standards excluded the majority of the world’s women who toiled in sectors expressly left out of such standard-setting, such as domestic service, subsistence agriculture, and home-based manufacturing. Only during the last decades of the twentieth century, when the ILO’s membership had expanded to include more nations from the Third World, would it finally seek improved income generation for rural women in the global South. By then its dedication to worker rights seemed like a relic of an earlier era, next to the well-heeled World Bank and other international organizations promoting the neoliberal deregulation, privatization, and financialization that have weakened labor in relation to capital. The ILO nonetheless maintained its commitment to labor standards, especially for the Third World. Even decades later, however, the ILO still exhibited a lingering adherence to gender and geographical difference, as in its declaration on the occasion of the International Women’s Year in 1975. The ILO maintained an older labor feminist claim that equality for wage-earning women required targeted measures in the face of non-gendered human rights discourse and against the tide of equal rights feminism (that is, a feminism that insists on treating women the same as men even if other social factors like household and care work lead to unequal results). Here the ILO’s champions were no longer the United States and other market economies, but rather non-aligned and state socialist nations. Likewise, the ILO sought to reduce UN efforts on women’s rights from a binding convention to a non-binding declaration, although it did come to accept the UN’s eventual Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979). We see a complex situation in which the ILO sought to extend equality to women by using targeted labor standards covering women’s employment and at the same time insisted on integrating economic rights into human rights. Not until preparing for its centennial in 2019 did the ILO begin to speak about care work at the center of decent work.

Gendered labor in human rights historiography The historical literature on human rights has expanded exponentially since the 1990s. But the ILO is at best a footnote in it because the historiographies of labor standards and human rights generally stand apart from each other, reflecting the Cold War division between civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic, social, and cultural rights on the other hand, as embedded in UN covenants.3 The ILO defied such dichotomies, as it saw economic and social rights as essential to the realization of human rights. Recent work on UN committees and programs for women perpetuates this scholarly lacuna; neither celebratory nor critical interpretations of the UN Conferences on Women consider ILO participation.4 Scholars of international feminism have mostly dismissed the ILO as protectionist and thus bad for women. Much of this literature replicates the historic debate between legal 262


equality and social democratic or trade union feminists of the time. Women’s historians tend to foreground legal equality groups like Open Door International and Woman’s World Party and have suggested that the ILO aligned itself with governments and male trade unionists who sought to hold women back from full economic participation and occupational self-determination. These studies generally are North American or European in focus. A few works mention ILO protections for maternity pensions or for alleviating conditions in specific occupations.5 Initial ILO histories came from organizational insiders, but recent scholarship moves away from internalist documentation to address broad historiographical questions. Most studies focus on the institution without engaging in gender analysis or paying much attention to women when assessing development, social security, or specific conventions.6 The major exception is Social Justice for Women (1990). Written by former ILO and UN staffers Carol Lubin and Ann Winslow, this account provides some basic facts on women employed within the agency and on ILO measures for women workers, but little interpretation.7 Several additional works, most notably by Lourdes Benería and Maryse Gaudier, chronicle women staffers’ direct experiences with the ILO and its affiliated International Institute for Labour Studies.8 The new gendered ILO scholarship concentrates on either the interwar period or late 20th and early twenty-first century globalization. Susan Zimmermann’s work is particularly noteworthy as she connects ILO instruments to larger geopolitical power relations and interrogates class and gender separately and together, showing the limits as well as promise of inter-war feminism.9 Various case studies consider specific conventions, such as night-work restrictions, recent standard setting for home-based labor, and the gendered consequences of development.10 Researchers are expanding beyond debates over women-only protective standards and women’s right to employment to consider the impact of ILO policies in specific nations and regions and the Office’s construction of social knowledge – the very data that other agencies and scholars use without questioning the politics of information assemblage. The pathbreaking collection Women’s ILO: Transnational Networks, Global Labour Standards, and Gender Equity deploys intersectional and transnational approaches to assess the possibilities and limits of a century of ILO engagement with women’s work, the gender of its legal instruments, and the role of transnational networks of women and their organizations. It further explores the ILO in relation to other global institutions, NGOs, and trade union federations in light of colonialism, imperialism, and decolonization; the Cold War and alternative visions of equality and social justice; and transformations in the nature of work itself. It considers national, international, and transnational scales of interaction, as is fitting for an organization that functions on all of these levels.11 However, human rights are a secondary theme in that collection.

The hidden gender paradigm Since World War II, the ILO’s formal approach to human rights has combined attention to political freedom, civil liberties, economic progress, and social justice, considering them mutually dependent.12 Universal rights, according to the Office, require dedication to broad policies supported by a multifaceted process of “education, promotion, inquiry, complaint, and assistance.”13 Nevertheless, in the early postwar years, conversations about full social and economic rights for women remained limited. The Declaration of Philadelphia set forth explicit aims to protect freedom of association as a right of speech 263


and action – for workers and for employers – and the right to collective bargaining as essential for sustained socio-economic progress. “Freedom of Association” and “Protection of the Right to Organize” conventions became what the ILO now considers “core” standards.14 The development of trade unions remains a priority for the ILO, both as social institutions supporting workers’ economic interests and as part of the institutional structure of the ILO itself. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were embedded as essential civil liberties in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), yet states have continued to resist legalizing unions. Today more than half of the workers in ILO member states live under political regimes that have not ratified these ILO conventions.15 Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are not normally considered gendered issues, but they reflect important distinctions based on sex, and so exemplify rights whose gendered nature is hidden. Due to a multitude of sociocultural factors, such as traditional norms and persistent employment differentiations, women have faced greater obstacles than men in obtaining union rights. In Western industrialized nations, most women labor in sectors outside of union representation, making collective bargaining moot. State socialist nations have claimed that workers regardless of gender have a voice as members of society and thus ipso facto enjoy “freedom of association,” though implementation has varied widely. The developing nations of the global South often lacked strong labor unions altogether. Balancing childrearing and other forms of household labor without state or union support, women have turned to selfemployment, home-based work, and/or part-time employment. Such jobs usually placed them outside of labor standards. Meanwhile, women entering formal employment did so in lower-paid positions, often service oriented and, again, less unionized than industrial production. Rural women faced dire obstacles to gaining rights since they labored informally in the home and fields. As early as the 1950s, the Office recognized this disadvantage, but hegemonic gender norms based on traditional conceptions of women’s role in economic activity blocked treating women as workers like any other. Many ILO employment specialists regarded women merely as providers of “subsidiary sources of income.” When women participated in labor unions, especially in less developed regions, they served as rank-and-file members, not as leaders. Their underrepresentation at the ILC as formal delegates representing workers reinforced the scant attention paid to women’s issues. Leadership programs for women unionists were limited, even though supported by the women’s section of the ILO.16 For example, when the Office recommended projects to strengthen women’s participation in rural cooperatives, member governments resisted; in 1951, for example, the Indian Ministry of Labour was “not willing to accord a high priority” to a request made by women’s groups for vocational training in agriculture.17 In 1964, the Committee on Women Workers successfully added to the agenda of the annual ILC the issue of women’s economic and social advancement and problems associated with women’s part time work. The Committee on Women Workers also prioritized the traditional concerns of maternity protections and family responsibilities. But there was no mention of union representation for or by women, despite the goal of the 1964 conference of strengthening tripartism.18 At decade’s end, an ILO expert with the African Field Office still pondered “why women and girls [were] left out of development projects,” including programs supporting collective action through cooperatives.19



The Cold War shaped another ILO human rights concern with hidden gender implications: forced labor. With the USSR rejoining the ILO in 1954, the United States supported a new forced labor convention so as to expose Eastern bloc violations. A 1956 panel of inquiry condemned … all systems of forced labor which are employed as a means of political coercion for punishment or for holding or expressing political views and are on such a scale as to constitute an important element in the economy of a given country.20 Such investigations, commissioned through the UN in association with the ILO, eventually generated the “Abolition of Forced Labour” Convention in 1957. Forced labor could not be used, the convention announced, as a form of political coercion or for “racial, social, national or religious discrimination”; as a mobilization of labor resources for economic development; as a means of discipline; or as a punishment for striking workers.21 This convention revised an earlier 1930 measure that had allowed colonial governments to maintain the practice with regard to “native labor” if they adhered to specified labor standards.22 This 1950s discussion did not mention sex differences. Yet women activists had highlighted the gender-specific consequences of forced labor for decades. During the interwar years, the Office had garnered the support of major women’s organizations for the 1930 Forced Labor Convention. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) abhorred the practice of moving men away from their homes for long-term compulsory service because such removal disrupted family life. Even when women were “allowed or compelled to go with such gangs,” that exposed them to sexual danger and prostitution. Exemption from forced labor still left women vulnerable to exploitation under contract labor.23 During the 1950s, WILPF again conveyed to the ILO and UN its strong support for “energetic action.”24 Strict legal equality feminists like Open Door International, in contrast, protested treating “native” women differently than men; they believed that equal treatment for native women would be an opening wedge for enhanced rights for Western women in their own nations, no matter the consequences for women elsewhere.25 The ILO forced labor convention mentioned debt bondage and contract labor but ignored sexual divisions, including sexual exploitation. In the end, ILO scrutiny fell upon postcolonial regions rather than on the coerced work arrangements in the Soviet sphere of influence that Western advocates had expected. The existence of the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) placed the question of sex trafficking with other agencies, though the ILO was also reluctant to tackle these issues.26 Human rights specialist Virginia Leary, who worked with the ILO for years in the 1970s, noted that forced labor had both legal and economic dimensions and that “vulnerable populations are the most in danger.”27 ILO studies have since revealed that women and girls made up over half of the victims of forced labor, mostly in domestic work where they could face sexual harassment.28

The equal treatment paradigm With the increased need for womanpower for national reconstruction and industrial development after World War II, the ILO shifted its emphasis from women-only protective labor laws to measures promoting equal treatment and non-discrimination, as 265


exemplified by passage of the “Equal Remuneration Convention” (1951) and “Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention” (1958). With 172 and 173 ratifications each as of 2016, these ILO conventions are among the most accepted worldwide.29 For the Discrimination Convention, a number of member states, especially state socialist ones, enunciated their support by invoking the ILO’s Declaration of Philadelphia as well as the authority of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the UN Commission on Human Rights.30 The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) strongly supported advancing equal remuneration through these ILO instruments.31 The ILO has served as the UN agency meant to extend the reach of human rights to employment. It is obliged to respond to UN requests for information, including concerning human rights. In 1948, for example, the UN’s Economic and Social Council asked the ILO to address equal remuneration at the same time that the UN added equal pay for men and women to the UDHR.32 The ILO’s governing body agreed, not least due to its rivalry with other UN units. While it carried out the research on equal remuneration, it relied on the UN’s Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities to guide work on discrimination.33 This was one of many moments that reveal a curious intellectual division of labor concerning the significance of gender in what was seen as discrimination. The equal treatment paradigm promoted conflicting agendas. Feminists wanted women to receive the same treatment as men. Employers accepted the principle but were uncomfortable with any interference with their ability to hire or set wages. Some of these same employers, however, wanted to appear fair. Male workers desired to maintain their working conditions and equal treatment seemed to be a way to do so. Newly independent states wanted equity. These varied “equal treatment” agendas played out in the deliberations over both equal remuneration and non-discrimination. ILO administrators, whatever their personal beliefs about gender equality, believed that “non-discrimination should be achieved not only as a measure of social justice but to promote labour mobility and efficient utilization of the labour force.”34 Their embrace of equal remuneration belonged to a long history of attempts by organized male workers to protect the wage out of fear that employers would undercut the rate for the job by hiring women for less.35 Women taking up men’s work during World War II made the need for equal remuneration more pressing. However, most employer associations clung to the canard that “the overall value of the work is less … in the case of work done by women.” Some employers incorporated into their costs of production the price of welfare amenities (e.g. toilet facilities), sex-based hours restrictions, and women’s presumably greater absenteeism and turnover, using those expenses to justify a lower women’s wage.36 Member states agreed that some international standard was appropriate but differed over whether it should take the form of a treaty-like convention or a non-binding recommendation. The Committee on Equal Remuneration recommended the stronger instrument of convention as well as a recommendation. Nations without robust labor inspectorates or capacity for enforcement balked at a convention. For example, India contended that it lacked “ordinary wage-fixing machinery,” such as job classification boards, and the personnel qualified to make such determinations.37 It further suggested exempting “family undertakings, domestic work, unorganized industries, and employment where the output of women was as a rule less than that of men,” that is, the places where most women labored.38 In formulating the convention, however, the ILC rejected 266


the claims of formerly colonized nations like India that their underdevelopment interfered with enforcing the provisions of a binding convention. The resulting Equal Remuneration Convention would differ from pre-World War II instruments in that it no longer explicitly differentiated between metropolitan and “non-metropolitan,” i.e. colonial, territories. However, it allowed member states to justify modification or even to declare the convention inapplicable for territories under their control.39 Member states also disagreed over definitions. They debated how to measure equal remuneration – whether through job evaluation to determine the rate for the job or by comparing jobs with skills of similar value – and whether to include the public sector or merely private enterprise. The final wording called for “objective appraisal of jobs on the basis of the work to be performed” rather than the sex of the worker, but allowed nations multiple paths for compliance – wage-fixing machinery, laws and regulations, and collective bargaining – that actually allowed for loopholes.40 The accompanying recommendation suggested that governments, in consultation with worker and employer organizations, apply the principle to employees, public contracts, and entities under state control. All social partners were to work together to develop appraisal mechanisms and strive to equalize remuneration rates. Delegates placed measures that might interfere with ratification of the convention into the recommendation – a common tactic in such negotiations. These included equal access to vocational guidance and training, encouragement of women to use such facilities, and state financing of social services for women workers who had family responsibilities. In suggesting targeted efforts for women, the more detailed recommendation offered the possibility of special treatment as a means to secure equal remuneration.41 Because government delegates voted with the worker delegates, the combination of a convention plus a recommendation passed at the 1951 ILC, despite opposition by most employers. The growing Cold War became manifest during these deliberations. State socialist nations framed their support in terms of human rights, as these had been included in their bodies of law. The communist-led World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), Poland, and the Soviet Union deployed human rights as a wedge issue to distinguish their promises from those of market economies and to win over developing and other non-aligned nations to their side.42 They first sought to move the question of equal pay away from the ILO to other UN entities. They used the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) as a platform to point out how “some of the most pressing inequities were to be found in the most highly industrialized countries,” chastising the United States and United Kingdom for the persistence of “flagrant discrimination” despite governmental acceptance of the equal remuneration principle. Pointing to the need to solve “important social problems of women,” including childcare and training, they demanded a broader understanding of remedies than found with the ILO. The Russian delegate to the CSW charged that “the position taken by the ILO showed that it was acting not in the interests of workers but in the interests of those who exploit them.”43 At the ILO in 1949, Poland also enunciated skepticism toward the ILO. With other state socialist nations, it offered a broad conception of discrimination, based on the UDHR.44 Czechoslovakia also linked its understanding of equal pay to anti-discrimination in terms of “sex, religion, race or political conviction.”45 For women to become more productive, they not only needed training, as proposed in the Office’s draft recommendation, but also “social facilities which would enable the employment of women who take care of their households, especially of mothers.”46 State socialist nations later used discussions on the 267


Discrimination Convention to condemn obvious blemishes on the records of the United States, still in the grip of racial segregation, and colonial powers like France and Britain.47 While the ILO cast the question of equal remuneration as one of economic management and worker protection, feminists viewed it as a fundamental right. Like the ILO’s own Office, most feminist organizations, notably the International Alliance of Women, preferred gender-neutral discourse, such as rates of remuneration, over phrases that referred to men and women.48 The militant equal rights Open Door International voiced the most skepticism among women’s groups: Until job classification systems are introduced everywhere the definition ‘rates established on job content’ has no practical meaning in countries where job classification is not introduced and thus many fictitious reasons can be given in order to delay for a long time the implementation of the principle ‘the rate for the job.’ Board members Elizabeth Abbott and Ina Møller wrote to the ILO. Ultimately job classification depended on “the objectivity and integrity of the job classifiers.” But they wondered, would not these assessors retain “traditional prejudices?” How could feminists be sure that the assessors would be “free from unproven erroneous conceptions of women’s skill and abilities?” Rate for the job was the only way forward, but that could not succeed unless general social conditions improved that had “a direct bearing upon the position of women in the labour market and consequently upon their remuneration.” Nonetheless, equal rates would entice women to improve their skills, reduce absenteeism, and become more efficient laborers, leading “to higher universal prosperity.”49 In other words, equal remuneration was a start but required a broader equality between the sexes to generate true equality. In fact, discrimination instruments – formulated nearly a decade later – were more about race than sex. Drafted amid growing national liberation movements, they generated much controversy: some members wanted no mention of “dependent territories,” while others, like India (which was leading the non-aligned movement) wanted a stronger statement of rights that extended to colonial entities.50 Women’s organizations did not send comments to the ILO as they had during discussions of equal remuneration. The 1950s were a transitional period: the older international feminist organizations were now less vocal at the ILO, and the new global feminism had yet to emerge. In the 1960s legal feminists would analogize sex discrimination to already won race discrimination, but the two forms of harm remained separate. The final text of the Discrimination Convention did reinstate the dualism of ILO constitutional principles when it came to women, namely: treatment like all other workers, except for sex-targeted measures to account or compensate for biological and social difference (i.e., women’s reproductive labor). There were dissenting voices; Belgium observed, “such differences seem scarcely compatible with present day industrial and technical development.”51 Nevertheless, the dualism persisted. The Discrimination Convention rejected “any distinction, exclusion, or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of impairing or nullifying equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.” ILC delegates agreed that distinctions 268


“inherent” in the requirements for specific jobs could allow gender preference to be claimed as a “bona fide occupational qualification,” the name subsequent US law gave to this loophole. Deliberators rejected calling such policy dualities contradictions, defining as non-discriminatory “special measures designed to meet the particular requirements of persons who, for reasons such as sex, age, disablement, family responsibilities or social or cultural status, are generally recognised to require special protection or assistance.”52 As a Czechoslovakian government advisor boasted, women in her country had both equality, including equal pay for equal work, and social security “better” than men, including coverage for maternity leave.53 She saw no contradiction. Normative understandings of gender encouraged most member states to treat sex discrimination apart from race, color, and ethnicity. They gave interestingly divergent reasons for such discrimination, interpreting sex discrimination as stemming from “social and economic” reasons while race discrimination arose from “hatred and prejudice.”54 Canada, for example, stressed how efforts other than legislation were appropriate for “promot[ing] equality of opportunity for women and men.” Its representatives contended that the question of equality between the sexes required “special measures, separate from those designed to prevent discrimination on other grounds.”55 Given the Declaration of Philadelphia and the UDHR, however, its worker advisor demurred: “how could this International Labour Conference adopt a document [on discrimination] and exclude from the grounds of discrimination the question of sex?”56 These issues arose in varied ways during discussions. Some delegates who focused on race discrimination only gave a cursory nod to sex discrimination.57 Others justified outright discriminatory practices on the basis of sex. Restrictions on women remained acceptable – and not only those justified as protective. During committee deliberations on the final amendment in 1958, the Irish government delegate admitted that his country, which would otherwise be willing to ratify the Convention, would be unable to do so because of “certain aspects of women’s employment.” To curb high unemployment, he explained, “women were required to retire from the public service on marriage and, in the private sector, some agreements provided that married women would not be employed.” Hiring men, single women, and widows while barring married women “should not be termed discrimination.”58 Yet other nations privileged the male wage, or based responses to sex discrimination on women’s status as wives and mothers. Netherlands accepted discrimination that “conform[ed] with national views regarding the contractual capacity of married women, minors and mental defectives,” that is, discrimination did not apply to legal dependents.59 Equality floundered when unable to accommodate entrenched notions of gender difference based on biology and social norms.

The special treatment paradigm The idea that women’s access to equal opportunity and non-discrimination required additional measures was a standard ILO refrain. In 1947, when stipulating the areas in which the ILO was to frame its deliberations on equal remuneration, the CSW flagged “provision of measures to lighten the tasks that arise from women’s home responsibilities, as well as the tasks relating to maternity.”60 The ILO responded to that challenge throughout the 1950s. One of the first conventions in 1919 addressed maternity protection. This instrument excluded domestic service, home work, and agriculture until revision in 1952. Maternity protection stipulated not only specified leave but also medical 269


care and job reinstatement and the ILO pushed for funding leaves through public monies rather than individual employers to militate against raising the costs of hiring women and discriminatory treatment of leave takers.61 Though not framed initially in terms of human rights, maternity leave became a precondition for economic rights. Women workers on plantations represented a special maternity case. ILO proposals on specific measures for these women reflected the centrality of their subsistence reproductive labor for the sustaining of plantation societies. With a long history associated with colonialism, plantations were considered a special form of economic activity, innately linked with conditions of mistreatment. Yet ILO definitions reflected Western and gender biases, even as the agency targeted plantation workers as a special group needing protection due to these vulnerabilities. It limited the term “plantation” to colonial and postcolonial regions, as production in tropical and subtropical areas utilizing “Western industrial methods,” foreign capital, and foreign supervision. The plantation or “estate” represented exploitation of human labor for the benefit of an outsider who was eager to extract value in the form of commodities destined for international markets. Imperialist perceptions persisted. Yet the debate over workers on plantations also reflected post-World War II recalibrations of the geographic and gender division of global labor, underscoring how inequality in the division of labor persisted during decolonization and the subsequent restructuring of international economic relations. Many plantations employed impoverished migrant labor brought from one region and settled specifically to work in another, essentially in captive circumstances. The family unit was the fulcrum of the system, as workers pooled resources. The biological and social reproduction of women sustained resident plantations, leading ILO experts to express great concern over the female body and maternal health. Nonetheless, domineering overlords consistently pushed the body and soul of the worker to the edge of survival. The ILO undertook a rigorous study of plantation labor beginning in the late 1940s and continuing into the 1950s, with regional meetings in Indonesia and Cuba. Its Plantations Committee determined that an ILO convention could improve conditions for both productive and reproductive labor. It should require access to first aid services on plantations, mobile health staff for pre- and post-natal care, and medical exams for early detection of sickness.62 The subsequent “Plantation Convention” (1958) included work relationships in the production of tea, coffee, bananas, rubber, jute, hemp, and, after a significant fight, sugar and cotton. It promoted improved living and working conditions for plantation residents. Its provisions encompassed rules overseeing the recruitment of migrant workers, maternity protections, standards for family housing, and medical care. It also included stipulations for ensuring freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the protection of wages, weekly periods for rest, and holidays with pay – certainly idealistic goals.63 The Plantation Convention embodied multidimensional aspirations, as had many other ILO instruments that aimed to promote decent standards in distinct economic environments around the world. It would advance human rights, combining gender equality with special treatment maternity and child protections, while also enhancing global development. The convention derived from one of the postwar ILO industrial committees (each of these committees focused on a specific industrial sector); it particularly benefited from consideration by Western labor feminists, who sought greater opportunities for working women.64 Their attention to women’s work and maternal welfare combined with ILO interests in steering the “developing” world into the fold of 270


modernity, with the hope of mitigating dependencies. The goal was to make estate-based labor more like other forms of employment, with rising standards of living, social security, and even full employment. Yet these standards took on different form for women as mothers with family responsibilities.65 In the end, only ten nations ratified the Plantation Convention. Had it gained greater traction it might have helped many women, children, and families, who into the 1970s were reported as dying of hunger when international market prices for commodities such as tea dropped dramatically. During previous decades, the ILO had promoted more general measures to alleviate the “triple role of workers, mothers, and housewives” experienced by rising numbers of women employed outside of the home in industrialized regions.66 State socialist nations offered their public services for employed mothers as a model. But other countries, including the United States and Britain, advocated part-time work, which the CSW asked the ILO to investigate at the same time as the ILO was reporting on handicraft and accepting home-based labor as a solution to the problem of combining family labor with income generation for women in the global South. The ILO prefigured the critique of what feminist lawyers now call “family responsibility discrimination” as a barrier to women’s equality.67 By the 1960s, concern with labor power shortages of both men and women led it to consider reproductive labor as part of its overall initiative on “Women in a Changing World.” In 1965, it passed a non-binding “Women with Family Responsibilities” recommendation that called for childcare facilities, services like vocational education and jobs counseling geared to the entry or reentry of women into employment, coordination of transport and school hours with work schedules, and public facilities to lighten household tasks.68 The coordinator of “Women, Youth, and Aging” explained that to maintain women with children in the workforce “society as a whole has to adapt realistically to a new pattern of needs in their work and life.”69 Women delegates at the ILC generally linked the recommendation to conventions on equal remuneration, the protection of maternity, and non-discrimination as necessary for real equality. Some representatives offered a broader equalitarian claim: “responsibility for the children and the family is, in general, the same for the man as for the woman,” one Swedish Worker delegate declared.70 Nonetheless, this recommendation reinforced, even as it sought to relieve, the gendered division of labor. Assuming industrializing nations to be in transition from “a patriarchal, static society,” a government delegate from Cyprus urged that women’s entrance into the workforce occur “without too much disruption of the traditional family structures and without detriment to a woman’s responsibilities and duties vis-à-vis her family and her children.” A worker delegate from Italy expressed such sentiments more strongly: “In this developing world, development certainly should not mean the dissolution of the family.” Against women’s right to work, he posited the rights of families to women’s labor and argued “for preparing and adopting efficient measures to lessen the economic necessity requiring women to seek work outside their homes.” Though “the social emancipation” of women was a worthwhile goal, morality and social necessity should propel delegates to improve ILO instruments “with a view to defending the family in a developing world.” The continuing emphasis on handicraft and cottage industry stood as a response to such attitudes among member states.71 Some consultants on women’s issues recognized the dual position of women in society, holding onto continued training of girls in “the elements of home-making and home management,” even as they would “prepare themselves for economic activity outside the home.”72 271


In 1981, reflecting the shift to the discourse of gender equality and the move to gender mainstreaming during the UN Decade for Women (1975–85), a new convention and recommendation spoke of “Workers with Family Responsibilities,” including men’s unpaid family work as well as women’s. This articulation superseded the casting of family labor as only women’s work – at least aspirationally. Despite claims to embrace “all categories of workers,” it still concentrated on labor force participation in industry and commerce, excluding home-based and informal sector work.73 Yet rather than wither away due to mechanization, family labors actually intensified with new norms for cleanliness and attentiveness, and so remained a drain on female employment.74

Women’s rights as human rights The ILC reflected consensus among its state members and employers and workers that sat as delegates. But the Office pushed the organization to embrace women’s rights. By the 1960s, the ILC came to advocate more than freedom from discrimination for women: it called for incorporating women into the debate over international labor standards as human rights. “Women Workers in a Changing World,” the 1963 Office report, offered an important normative text periodically reviewed and used as a “basis for discussion” over the next decade. It clarified problems associated with gendered distinctions: worldwide imbalances in women’s integration in economic activity, societal discrimination against women’s entry into certain fields of paid work, and implementation challenges to both equal pay and equal opportunity. Ever cautious, so not to upset its long-standing protocol, the Office opted for periodic review of ILO measures pertaining to women “in light of scientific and technological advances” rather than a “well-intentioned effort” to “de-protect,” that is, eliminate sex-specific standards. Nonetheless, it was noted: “There will always remain a limited sphere in which women need protection: the sphere of maternity.”75 Subsequent ILO strategy reinforced a new instrumentalist approach: women’s labor became a vital means of economic and social development for nations and essential to alleviate worldwide poverty. But the transition from single sex protections was gradual. A 1972 ILC resolution requested that the director-general “bring up to date the report on women workers in a changing world, with particular reference to identifying the needs relating to equal opportunity and treatment and the problems arising from rapidly changing structures and conditions of work.”76 Two years later, the Consultants on Women Workers’ Problems pressed for extension of economic opportunities to women, in keeping with feminist demands at the UN both to insert women into development and to end employment discrimination. Women workers faced broad challenges because socioeconomic and political structures still led to prejudice against their economic rights. In spite of intentions, they remained outside of UN development programs and access to “opportunity” varied, depending on what kinds of projects a nation requested technical assistance to pursue. The issue was “complex and delicate and any approach to it on a universal basis is bound to be fraught with very considerable difficulty,”77 these ILO consultants concluded. Women needed an across-the-board strategy reflecting the idea of equity – a comprehensive vision of social justice that spoke to the problem of low pay, lesser status, and gaps in social security for working women. Social protections also required reconsideration; they should cover “all adult human beings … in their own right.”78 272


For the 1975 World Conference of the International Women’s Year, ILO experts prepared a “Declaration” on the topic of “equality of opportunity and treatment of women workers.”79 They asked whether women-only protective legislation remained “an obstacle to equality.” They cited problems of equal treatment, education, and vocational training for women and girls. This Declaration reflected the ascension of gender equality discourse; it reaffirmed ILO commitment to “equality of opportunity, that is, non-discrimination in educational, training and employment policy and practice,” and promoted equal pay and comparable worth. Maternity, however, was different, requiring “social protection of women.” Though labeling restrictions on equality unacceptable, the Declaration then redefined discrimination: “Positive special treatment during a transitional period aimed at effective equality between the sexes shall not be regarded as discriminatory.”80 The 1975 Declaration embodied the way that women’s rights – indeed, the entire UN system – had become a terrain of anticolonial politics with Cold War valences. The Soviet Union supported anti-apartheid struggles and Palestinian rights and connected peace and development to anti-capitalist approaches to human rights. The Declaration explicitly reflected the growing influence of the non-aligned nations and their association of women’s rights with the announcement of a New International Economic Order that “will contribute towards ensuring better employment, conditions of work and life for women, especially in developing countries,” a concept added to the preamble of this declaration despite opposition from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and employer delegates who saw the preamble as a direct attack on market economies.81 By the end of the twentieth century, the ILO approached gender, work, and human rights through gender mainstreaming, a process that infuses gender equality into all aspects of the institution’s strategy and programming by considering each aspect in terms of its gender-specific impacts and the inclusion of women equally with men in decisionmaking. It assumed that improving women’s status would require shifting the position of men in the family and the society. This perspective emerged in the wake of the Mexico City conference in 1975, where feminists discussed how development aid programs were disadvantaging women.82 The Second World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985 endorsed gender mainstreaming programs and projects.83 By the time of the Third Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995, the strategy included goals relating to education, health, decision-making, leadership, and economic relations. The ILO’s Action Plan for Gender Equality (2010) belatedly echoed this “integrated approach” – much like broad conceptions of human rights – so as to utilize all tools available to support workers’ rights (and women’s rights) as human rights. Women-specific conventions belonged to the past, but in the 2000s the ILO recognized that women workers faced genderspecific issues stemming from sexual harassment, care responsibilities, or employment in low-waged women-dominated sectors uncovered by collective bargaining and labor law. Through the example of the ILO, this essay has highlighted economic rights as an essential part of human rights. Mid-twentieth-century formulators of global labor standards saw the right to a job under decent conditions as foundational to the activation of civil, social, and political rights. But gaining such rights has required breaking through gender norms and questioning the sexual division of labor. Those processes were halting at best during the quarter century following World War II. By categorizing ILO instruments in terms of their relationship to gender, we suggest the complexity of the task of accounting for social and cultural difference while promoting equal human rights. Hidden gender policies appeared to be without gender specificity 273


but impacted women in negative ways, because of occupational segmentation by sex, women’s position outside of trade unions, and the organization of family life. Legal equality, expressed through equal treatment conventions and recommendations, was the most legible way to promote human rights for women, but failed for its part to compensate for women’s family responsibilities. Special treatment instruments, however, risked different and thus unequal treatment of those designated as deficient from a male norm. These formulas clashed and collided within the ILO even after its commitment to gender mainstreaming in the early twenty-first century. On the eve of its centennial in 2019, the ILO maintained its dual commitment to equal treatment and special treatment, while claiming that most conventions had nothing to do with gender at all, though as we have suggested many were subject to the hidden gender paradigm. It began to address the ways that characteristics of feminized labor – part-time, low-paid, temporary, and uncovered by labor standards – had spread to what were once thought of as good jobs: unionized with benefits and living wages, where workers had a voice in the conditions of their labor. Thus when the director-general spoke of gender equality being at the center of decent work in 2017, he was recognizing that without reorganizing family labor within the household and between the household and society, economic rights for women as well as for men would fall short.84 Future research needs to recognize the limits of basing international labor standards on a universal “woman,” as doing so projects Western urban lives as the norm. It is time for a more robust intersectional analysis of all the dimensions of workers: their gender, race, religion, age, and other demographic and social factors. We need more studies of outcomes, of what happened when various stakeholders returned from Geneva and tried to change national policy using ILO conventions and recommendations. Such studies should look at the role of unions, women’s organizations, human rights groups, churches, and local experts in making economic rights a reality. At a time when increasing numbers of workers are misclassified as independent contractors, self-employed, or ownaccount workers, the very employer–employee basis informing labor standards places more and more workers as outside of protection. In this context, the umbrella of human rights might very well provide the means to enhance social and economic rights, because its provisions are free from misclassifications stemming from employers’ refusal to abide by wages, hours, and other labor provisions. The Declaration of Philadelphia, with its insistence that economic, civil, and social rights are interconnected, provides a powerful guide to the future by way of a usable past. However, neither women-specific protections nor legal equality alone can lead to gender justice without interrogating the gender division of labor at home as well as at work.

Notes 1 International Labour Office (hereafter ILO), The Declaration of Philadelphia, Geneva: ILO, 1944. 2 Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012. 3 An example from the time is Rita Falk Taubenfeld and Howard J. Taubenfeld, “Achieving the Human Rights of Women: The Base Line, the Challenge, the Search for a Strategy,” Human Rights, 1975, vol. 4, no. 2, 125–69. General consideration of women at the UN has limited mention of the ILO. For example, Hilkka Pietilä and Jeanne Vickers, Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations, London: Zed Books, 1990, pp. 115, 116, 171, mentions the Equal Remuneration Convention; there are scattered references in Anne Winslow, Women, Politics, and






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the United Nations, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995, with the most sustained discussion in Winslow’s own chapter, “Specialized Agencies and the World Bank,” p. 157. See also Lisa Baldez, Defying Convention: U.S. Resistance to the UN Treaty on Women’s Rights, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 46–62, and Jean Quataert, Advocating Dignity: Human Rights Mobilizations in Global Politics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. The exception is Eileen Boris’ brief discussion in “Difference’s Other: The ILO and ‘Women in Developing Countries,’” in Jill Jensen and Nelson Lichtenstein (eds.) The ILO from Geneva to the Pacific Rim: West Meets East, New York and Geneva: Palgrave and ILO, 2016, pp. 149–50. For the earlier period, Marilyn Lake, “From Self-Determination via Protection to Equality via Non-Discrimination: Defining Women’s Rights at the League of Nations and the United Nations,” in Patricia Grimshaw, Katie Holmes, and Marilyn Lake (eds.) Women’s Rights and Human Rights: International Historical Perspectives, New York: Palgrave, 2001, pp. 254–71. See also Arvonne S. Fraser, “Becoming Human: The Origins and Development of Women’s Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, 1999, vol. 21, no. 4, 884–94; Roland Burke, “Competing for the Last Utopia? The NIEO, Human Rights, and the World Conference for the International Women’s Year, Mexico City, June 1975,” Humanity, 2015, vol. 6, no. 1, 47–61; Jocelyn Olcott, International Women’s Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. This is also true for the historiography focused on state socialist activities: Kristen Ghodsee, “Revisiting the United Nations Decade for Women: Brief Reflections on Feminism, Capitalism and Cold War Politics in the Early Years of the International Women’s Movement,” Women’s Studies International Forum, 2010, vol. 33, no. 1, 3–12; Celia Donert, “Whose Utopia? Gender, Ideology, and Human Rights at the 1975 World Congress of Women in East Berlin,” in Jan Eckel and Samuel Moyn (eds.) The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, pp. 68–87. Carol Miller, “‘Geneva – the Key to Equality’: Inter-War Feminists and the League of Nations,” Women’s History Review, 1994, vol. 3, no. 2, 219–45; Sandra Whitworth, Feminism and International Relations, London: Maclan Press, 1994; Nitza Berkovitch, From Motherhood to Citizenship: Women’s Rights and International Organizations, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999; Suzanne Franzway and Mary Margaret Fonow, Making Feminist Politics Transnational Alliances Between Women and Labor, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2011; Ann Therese Lotherington and Anne Britt Flemman, “Negotiating Gender: The Case of the International Labour Organization,” in Kristi Anne Stølen and Mariken Vaa (eds.) Gender and Change in Developing Countries, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 273–307. Daniel Maul, Human Rights, Development and Decolonization. The International Labour Organization, 1940–70, New York and Geneva: Palgrave and the ILO, 2012; the majority of essays in Jasmien van Daele, Magaly Rodríquez Garcia, Geert van Goethem, and Marcel van der Linden (eds.), ILO Histories: Essays on the International Labour Organization and its Impact on the World During the Twentieth Century, New York: Peter Lang, 2010; and Gerry Rodgers, Eddy Lee, Lee Swepston, and Jasmien Van Daele, The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice, New York: Cornell University Press, 2009. Carol Lubin and Anne Winslow, Social Justice for Women: The International Labor Organization and Women, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990. Lourdes Benería, Gender, Development, and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered, New York: Routledge, 2003; Maryse Gaudier, La Question des Femmes à l’OIT et son Évolution 1919–1994, Geneva: International Institute of Labour Studies, 1996; Maryse Gaudier, The International Institute for Labour Studies: Its Research Function, Activities and Publications 1960–2001, Geneva: ILO, 2001. Susan Zimmermann, “‘Special Circumstances’ in Geneva: The ILO and the World of NonMetropolitan Labour in the Interwar Years,” in van Daele et al., ILO Histories, pp. 221–50; Susan Zimmermann, “Liaison Committees of International Women’s Organizations and the Changing Landscape of Women’s Internationalism, 1920s to 1945,” in Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin (eds.) Women and Social Movements, International, 1840 to Present, Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2012. Online. Available at women-and-social-movements-international (accessed 8 December 2018); Susan Zimmermann, “The International Labour Organization, Transnational Women’s Networks, and the Question of Unpaid Work in the Interwar World,” in Clare Midgley, Alison Twells, and Julie Carlier




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(eds.) Women in Transnational History: Gendering the Local and the Global, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 33–53; Susan Zimmermann, “Night Work for White Women and Bonded Labour for ‘Native’ Women? Contentious Traditions and the Globalization of Gender-Specific Labour Protection and Legal Equality Politics, 1926 to 1939,” in Sara Kimble and Marion Röwekamp (eds.) New Perspectives on European Women’s Legal History, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 394–427; Susan Zimmermann, “Equality of Women’s Economic Status? A Major Bone of Contention in the International Gender Politics Emerging During the Interwar Period,” International History Review, 2017. Online. Available at .2017.1395761 (accessed 8 December 2018); Susan Zimmermann, “Globalizing Gendered Labour Policy: International Labour Standards and the Global South, 1919–1947,” in Eileen Boris, Dorothea Hoehtker, and Susan Zimmermann (eds.) Women’s ILO: Transnational Networks, Global Labour Standards and Gender Equity, 1919 to Present, Leiden and Geneva: Brill and ILO, 2018, pp. 227–54. For interwar discussions, see note 9 and Ulla Wikander, “Demands on the ILO by Internationally Organized Women in 1919,” in van Daele et al., ILO Histories, pp. 67–89; Dorothy Sue Cobble, “Japan and the 1919 ILO: Debates Over Rights, Representation, and Global Labor Standards,” in Jensen and Lichtenstein, The ILO from Geneva to the Pacific Rim, pp. 55–79; Françoise Thébaud, “Réseaux Réformateurs et Politiques du Travail Feminine: L’oit au Prisme de la Carrier et des Engagements de Marguerite Thibert,” pp. 27–37 and Nora Natchkova and Céline Schoeni, “L’Organisation internationale du travail, les féministes et les réseaux d’expertes. Les enjeux d’une politique protectrice (1919–1934),” pp. 39–51, both in Isabelle Lespinet-Moret and Vincent Viet (eds.) L’Organisation internationale du travail – Origine, Développement, Avenir, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011, pp. 39–52; Nora Natchkova and Céline Schoeni, “The ILO, Feminists and Expert Networks: The Challenges of a Protective Policy, 1919–1934,” in Sandrine Kott and Joëlle Droux (eds.) Globalizing Social Rights: The International Labour Organization and Beyond, New York and Geneva: Palgrave and ILO, 2013, pp. 49–64. See also Nora Natchkova, “Travail, Luttes et Inégalité: les Femmes au Cœur des Négociations de l’Organisation Internationale du Travail et de l’Horlogerie Suisse (1912–1931),” Université de Fribourg (Switzerland), PhD thesis, 2011. For labor standards, see note 9; Nora Natchkova and Céline Schoeni, “Qui a besoin de ‘protéger’ les femmes? La Convention sur le Travail de Nuit des Femmes (1919–1934),” Travail, Genre et Sociétés, 2008, vol. 20, 111–28; Eileen Boris, “‘No Right to Layettes or Nursing Time:’ Maternity Leave and the Question of United States Exceptionalism,” in Leon Fink (ed.) Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 171–93; Paula Määttä, The ILO Principle of Equal Pay and its Implementation, Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press, 2008; Elizabeth Prügl, The Global Construction of Gender: Home-Based Work in the Political Economy of the 20th Century, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Jennifer Fish and Jennifer Turner, “The Global Domestic: Mapping ‘Decent Work’ in International Dialogues” and Annie Delaney, Rosaria Burchielli, and Jane Tate, “Homeworkers Organizing for Recognition and Rights: Can International Standards Assist Them?” both in Jensen and Lichtenstein (eds.) The ILO from Geneva to the Pacific Rim; Eileen Boris and Jennifer Fish, “‘Slaves No More’: Making Global Labor Standards for Domestic Workers,” Feminist Studies, 2014, vol. 40, no. 2, 411–43; Jennifer Fish, Domestic Workers of the World Unite! A Global Movement for Dignity and Human Rights, New York: New York University Press, 2017; and Leah Vosko, Managing the Margins: Gender, Citizenship and the International Regulation of Precarious Employment, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Boris, Hoehtker, and Zimmermann, Women’s ILO. Based on the writing of C. Wilfred Jenks in “The ILO Approach to Human Rights,” ILO Panorama, 1968, vol. 32, 2–3. For strategic reasons the ILO sometimes claimed economic rights as its portfolio, allowing other entities to be in charge of civil rights. “The ILO Approach to Human Rights,” 3. Convention 87 “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize,” came into being in 1948 and Convention 98 “Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining” came into being 1949. Clifford Donn and Minghua Zhao, “Freedom of Association: A Comparison of Chinese and US Approaches to ILO Standards,” in Jensen and Lichtenstein, The ILO from Geneva to the Pacific



16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29


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33 34 35 36

Rim, pp. 251–76, especially p. 252. While 153 states have ratified Convention 87, Brazil, China, India, Iran, and the United States have not. For example, “Report on Workers’ Education in Nigeria,” Geneva: ILO, 1960, in ILO Archives, Geneva, Switzerland, ILO/OTA/Nigeria/R.2. ILO Archives, Registry/229560, WN 8–4, “Women’s Questions – Problems of Working Women in Special Occupations or Professions, Agriculture – General,” letter from Albert Guigui to Mildred Fairchild, 15 October 1951. “International Labor Organization,” International Organization, 1965, vol. 19, no. 1, 132–3. See also ILO, Official Bulletin, 1964, vol. 47, no. 1, 1–25. ILO Archives, Registry/229560, WN 8–4, J. B. Orizit to Elizabeth Johnstone, 28 April 1969. ILO Archives, ILC 39–416, Report VI: Forced Labor, File: International Labour Conference, 9th Session, 1956, letter from Philippe Seynes of the ECOSOC to David Morse, 15 May 1956. Article 1, Convention 105, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957. Online. Available at (accessed 8 December 2018). Maul, Human Rights, Development and Decolonization, pp. 23–7. E. Unwin, “The Slavery Convention, and the Forthcoming Meeting of the ILO on Forced Labour,” Women’s International League Monthly News Sheet (British Section), 1927, vol. 18, no. 3, 3. ILO Archives, “Resolution on the United Nations Report on Forced Labour,” August 1953; Memo by Dr. A. R. Metail, 23 October 1953, FLC 1–1401, Jacket 1, 10/1953. Zimmermann, “Globalizing Gendered Labour Policy.” Approval by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 317 (IV), 2 December 1949. Online. Available at (accessed 8 December 2018). Virginia A. Leary, “The Paradox of Workers Rights and Human Rights,” in Lance A. Compa and Stephen F. Diamond (eds.) Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996, p. 26. ILO Press Release: “ILO Adopts New Protocol to Tackle Modern Forms of Forced Labour,” 11 June 2014. Online. Available at WCMS_246549/lang–en/index.htm (accessed 8 December 2018). In contrast, by 2016 #102, “Social Security” had only 56, #103 “Maternity” had only 41, and #110 “Plantations” had only 12. Other “Fundamental Conventions” have about the same number of ratifications; these include forced labor, minimum age, and freedom of association. For ratifications of ILO Conventions, see the NORMLEX database. Online. Available at www (accessed 8 December 2018). International Labour Conference, “Seventh Item on the Agenda: Discrimination in the Field of Employment and Occupation,” Report VII (2), Geneva: ILO, 1957, pp. 4, 8, 20, 23, 95; “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, Geneva: ILO, 1958, pp. 402, 413. Appendix VI, “Fourth Item on the Agenda,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, p. 709. National Archives at College Park, MD, RG 86 Records of the US Women’s Bureau, Box 66, Office of the Director, General Correspondence of the Women’s Bureau, 1948–1953, Folder “1949 Conference, Geneva,” Frieda Miller to David Morse, 14 June 1948; Miller to Mrs. Nyswander, 14 June 1948. ILO Archives, ILO 40–417, Jacket 1, Minute from R. M. Lyman to Mr. Rao, 23 May 1957. International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (1), Geneva: ILO, 1949, p. 7. Silke Neunsinger, “The Unobtainable Magic of Numbers: Equal Remuneration, the ILO, and the International Trade Union Movement 1950s–1980s,” in Boris, Hoehtker, and Zimmermann, Women’s ILO, pp. 121–48. International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (1), Geneva: ILO, 1949, p. 16.



37 International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (2), Geneva: ILO, 1950, p. 4. 38 International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (2), Geneva: ILO, 1950, p. 16. 39 Equal Remuneration Convention (#100), Article 7. Online. Available at normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C100 (accessed 8 December 2018). 40 Equal Remuneration Convention (#100), Article 3. Online. Available at normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C100 (accessed 8 December 2018). 41 R090 Equal Remuneration Recommendation, 1951 (No. 90). Online. Available at /dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMEN T_ID:312428:NO (accessed 8 December 2018). 42 The WFTU was founded in London in 1945 to represent the international trade union movement. However, all non-communist unions disaffiliated to join the rival, Western-controlled International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1950. Both union federations held NGO observer status at the UN and the ILO. See WFTU, The World Federation of Trade Unions, 1945–1985, Prague: WFTU in cooperation with Prace Czechoslovak Trade Unions, 1985. 43 ILO Archives, Unclassified, Commission on the Status of Women (94th and 95th Meetings), 10–12, Minutes Compiled by US State Department, ESC 1004–11-5. 44 International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (2), Geneva: ILO, 1950, p. 14. 45 International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (2), Geneva: ILO, 1950, p. 17. 46 International Labour Conference, “Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” Fifth Item on the Agenda for 33rd Session, Report V (2), Geneva: ILO, 1950, p. 42. 47 Mr. Shkunaev, “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, pp. 405–6. 48 ILO Archives, D634-412–01, Laurel Casinader, Chair of the Economic Committee, International Alliance of Women, “Proposed Recommendation Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value,” 22 May 1951. 49 ILO Archives, D633-415–0, Elizabeth Abbott and Ina Møller, “Memorandum on Equal Pay,” June 1950, 7–8. 50 “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, p. 403. 51 International Labour Conference, “Seventh Item on the Agenda: Discrimination,” p. 33. 52 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), Articles 1, 2, 5. Online. Available NO:12100:P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312256:NO (accessed 8 December 2018). On “bona fide occupational qualification,” see Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, SEC. 2000e-2 [Section 703 (e)]. Online. Available (accessed 8 December 2018). 53 Mrs. Srnská, “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, p. 409. 54 Appendix VI, “Fourth Item on the Agenda,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, p. 709. 55 Mr. Carroll, Appendix VI, “Fourth Item on the Agenda,” 408; International Labour Conference, “Seventh Item on the Agenda: Discrimination,” p. 18. 56 Mr. Kaplansky, “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, p. 414.



57 Mr. Nagler, “Report of the Committee on Discrimination,” in International Labour Conference, Record of Proceedings, 42nd Session, pp. 403–5. 58 ILO Archives, Remarks by Mr. Agnew, “Corrigenda to C.D./RV.5, X/4,” ILC, 42nd Session, Committee on Discrimination, 18 June 1958. 59 International Labour Conference, “Seventh Item on the Agenda: Discrimination,” pp. 20, 27, 41. 60 ILO Archives, ECOSOC, Report on the Third Session of the CSW, Beirut, Lebanon, 21 March to 4 April 1949, E/1316, E/CN.6/124, 19 April 1949, “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” 17–18. 61 Elizabeth Johnstone, “Women in Economic Life: Rights and Opportunities,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1968, vol. 375, no. 1, 103. 62 ILO Archives, “ILO Plantations Committee Second Meeting in Havana, Press Release ILO/ 681, 30 March 1953,” Registry/196262, “Industrial Committees and Analogous Bodies,” Plantations Committee – 2nd Session – Havana March 1953. 63 The final ILO Convention included “coffee, tea, sugarcane, rubber, bananas, cocoa, coconuts, groundnuts, cotton, tobacco, fibers (sisal, jute, and hemp), citrus, palm oil, cinchona, or pineapple.” It also noted the ability of individual nations to include “rice, chicory, cardamom, geranium and pyrethrum, or any other crop.” C110, Plantations Convention, 1958 (No. 110). The full text of Plantations Convention, 1958 (No. 110), is online. Available at normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312255